The secretary of the Navy and the admiral who leads the SEALs have threatened to resign or be fired if plans to expel a commando from the elite unit in a war crimes case are halted by President Trump, administration officials said Saturday.
The Navy is proceeding with the disciplinary plans against the commando, Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who counts Mr. Trump as one of his most vocal supporters. The threats by the Navy secretary, Richard V. Spencer, and Rear Adm. Collin Green are a rare instance of pushback against Mr. Trump from members of the Defense Department.
Chief Gallagher was accused of shooting civilians, murdering a captive Islamic State fighter with a hunting knife in Iraq, and threatening to kill SEALs who reported him, among other misconduct. His court-martial ended in acquittal on those charges.
But the Navy ultimately demoted the chief, who was convicted of one charge: bringing discredit to the armed forces by posing for photos with the teenage captive’s dead body. Last Friday, Mr. Trump reversed that demotion, angering Navy officials, who had little choice but to accept the reversal. Nonetheless, they continued with their plans to expel Chief Gallagher from the unit.
On Thursday, the president intervened again in the case, saying that the commando should remain in the unit.
Referring to the pin that signifies membership in the SEALs, Mr. Trump said on Twitter that “The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin.” He added: “This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”
One argument that officials said the Pentagon is relying on is the assumption that a tweet does not constitute a formal presidential order. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conveyed to the president that if he followed up that tweet with a direct order, there would be huge consequences: Mr. Trump would lose Mr. Spencer and Admiral Green, further infuriate his top military leadership and do untold damage to decades of military justice doctrine, according to administration officials. [Continue reading…]