Richard Spencer, who was ousted earlier this week as Navy secretary, on Wednesday publicly criticized President Donald Trump’s meddling in military justice proceedings.
Spencer wrote an opinion article in The Washington Post clarifying what happened when he was forced to resign Sunday for clashing with the president over the controversial case of Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was accused of several war crimes and convicted on one count this year.
“The public should know that we have extensive screening procedures in place to assess the health and well-being of our force. But we must keep fine-tuning those procedures to prevent a case such as this one from happening again,” Spencer wrote.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked Spencer to resign over his handling of Gallagher’s case, which had attracted Trump’s attention after conservative media embraced the SEAL. Gallagher was convicted in July after posing for a photo with the corpse of a captured teenage ISIS fighter in Iraq. He had also been accused of killing the fighter and of threatening fellow SEALs, but he was acquitted of those charges.
The Navy demoted Gallagher after his conviction in military court, but Trump reinstated his rank on Nov. 15. Spencer maintained that the Navy would still conduct an administrative review of Gallagher’s Trident pin, which symbolizes his membership in the SEAL group. The former Navy secretary wrote Wednesday that the review board consisted of four senior enlisted SEALs who were Gallagher’s peers in the community.
“Normally, military justice works best when senior leadership stays far away,” Spencer said. “A system that prevents command influence is what separates our armed forces from others. Our system of military justice has helped build the world’s most powerful navy; good leaders get promoted, bad ones get moved out and criminals are punished.”
“This was a shocking and unprecedented intervention in a low-level review,” Spencer said Wednesday of Trump’s action in Gallagher’s case. “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.”
In his resignation letter, Spencer said he could not “in good conscience obey an order that I believe violated a sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag, and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
At Trump’s campaign rally Tuesday in Sunrise, Florida, the president said he would “always stick up” for members of the military, even if they are accused and convicted of war crimes. Trump called the three accused war criminals he had pardoned “great warriors,” while referring to career Navy officials as the “deep state.”
“Americans need to know that 99.9 percent of our uniformed members always have, always are and always will make the right decision,” Spencer said. “Our allies need to know that we remain a force for good, and to please bear with us as we move through this moment in time.”
Esper said Monday that Trump directed him to stop proceedings against Gallagher. Gallagher is expected to retire from the Navy this weekend.