WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday fired the Navy’s top official for allegedly proposing a deal with the White House behind Esper’s back to resolve the matter of a Navy SEAL whose case has been championed by President Donald Trump.
At Esper’s request, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer submitted his resignation Sunday, said the chief spokesman for the Pentagon, Jonathan Hoffman.
The firing was a dramatic turn in a fast-changing and politically charged controversy involving Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher. On Wednesday the Navy had notified Gallagher that he would face a Navy SEAL review board to determine if he should be allowed to remain in the elite force.
Gallagher was acquitted of a murder charge in the stabbing death of an Islamic State militant captive, but a military jury convicted him of posing with the corpse while in Iraq in 2017. He was demoted from chief petty officer to a 1st class petty officer. Trump this month restored Gallagher’s rank.
In a statement issued by Hoffman, Esper said he had lost “trust and confidence” in Spencer after learning that the Navy secretary had “privately” proposed to the White House to allow Gallagher to retire in his current rank and without losing his status as a SEAL. Esper said that in previous conversations with Spencer about the Gallagher matter, Spencer had not told Esper of his proposal to the White House.
Esper faulted Spencer for a “lack of candor” on the matter.
A spokesperson for Spencer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Esper on Sunday directed that Gallagher be allowed to retire at the end of this month, and that the Navy review board that was scheduled to hear his case starting Dec. 2 be cancelled, Hoffman said. At Esper’s direction, Gallagher will be allowed to retire as a SEAL at his current rank, Hoffman said. He said Esper had concluded that Gallagher could not, under the circumstances, receive a fair shake from the Navy, and thus should be allowed to retire.
In the written statement, Esper said of Spencer: “I am deeply troubled by this conduct shown by a senior DOD official. Unfortunately, as a result I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position. I wish Richard well.”