Just days after being fired, former Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer penned an op-ed in The Washington Post criticizing President Donald Trump for his intervention in Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s case.
In the op-ed titled, “I was fired as Navy secretary. Here’s what I’ve learned because of it,” Spencer praises the military justice system, adding, “It is highly irregular for a secretary to become deeply involved in most personnel matters. Normally, military justice works best when senior leadership stays far away.”
He continues to review the events surrounding Gallagher’s case and Trump’s multiple attempts to intervene.
“President Trump involved himself in the case almost from the start. Before the trial began, in March, I received two calls from the president asking me to lift Gallagher’s confinement in a Navy brig; I pushed back twice, because the presiding judge, acting on information about the accused’s conduct, had decided that confinement was important. Eventually, the president ordered me to have him transferred to the equivalent of an enlisted barracks.”
Spencer says he asked Trump not to intervene in the Navy’s proceedings to decide whether or not Gallagher could retire with his rank as a SEAL, but the next day he received word from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone that he would be ordered to restore Gallagher’s rank.
“On Nov. 14, partly because the president had already contacted me twice, I sent him a note asking him not to get involved in these questions. The next day, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone called me and said the president would remain involved. Shortly thereafter, I received a second call from Cipollone, who said the president would order me to restore Gallagher to the rank of chief.”
That “shocking and unprecedented intervention,” according to Spencer, served as a reminder that “the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military.”
“This was a shocking and unprecedented intervention in a low-level review. It was also a reminder that the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically, or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.”
Spencer says he tried to establish a review board of Gallagher’s peers since “the Naval Special Warfare community owns the Trident pin.” He added that he saw Trump’s tweet, saying that Gallagher would keep his Trident pin, as an expression of the president’s wishes but not an order, “chiefly because every action taken by the president in the case so far had either been a verbal or written command.”
The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2019
He also takes responsibility for not informing Defense Secretary Mark Esper of his efforts to keep the review processing free of intervention, adding, “That was, I see in retrospect, a mistake for which I am solely responsible.”
Spencer closes by saying that the military justice system needs “fine-tuning” to keep it independent but adds that most service members will “make the right decision.” He also asks America’s allies to “please bear with us as we move through this moment in time.”