President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he will “always stick up” for members of the United States military, even if those members are accused of war crimes.
“Just this week I stuck up for three great warriors against the deep state,” the president said at his campaign rally in Sunrise, Florida.
Earlier this month, Trump pardoned three members of the U.S. military who were accused of war crimes.
Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, a former Green Beret, was accused of killing a civilian he believed to be a bomb-maker while deployed in Afghanistan. Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance was found guilty of ordering soldiers in his platoon to open fire on three male civilians on a motorcycle in Afghanistan. Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher was convicted after posing for a photo with a captured teenage ISIS fighter’s corpse in Iraq.
“We’re going to take care of our warriors. And I will always stick up for our great fighters,” Trump said Tuesday. “People can sit there in air-conditioned offices and complain, but you know what? It doesn’t matter to me whatsoever.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper forced Richard Spencer to resign on Sunday after the Navy secretary clashed with Trump’s decision to intervene in military disciplinary proceedings, specifically relating to Gallagher’s controversial case.
The Navy demoted Gallagher after he was found guilty in military court this summer of posing in the photo. He was also accused of murdering the Iraqi teen and threatening fellow SEALs, but he was acquitted of those charges. Members of Gallagher’s platoon reported his misconduct, though the SEAL has since been embraced by conservatives, including Trump.
Trump reversed Gallagher’s demotion on Nov. 15, but the Navy maintained that it would continue its military disciplinary hearings against him and would not allow Gallagher to wear his Trident pin, which symbolizes his membership in the elite SEAL group.
The president tweeted Thursday that the Navy would not take away Gallagher’s pin, but Spencer said Saturday that he did not see the tweet as an order and would continue with the administrative review of Gallagher’s SEAL membership unless Trump gave an official order to block the proceedings.
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.”
In a Monday interview with CBS, Spencer said Trump’s meddling in Gallagher’s case sends the message that “you can get away with things.”
“We have to have good order and discipline. It’s the backbone of what we do, and the Trident review process with the senior enlisted reviewing fellow senior enlisted is critical,” Spencer said. “The senior enlisted of our military are the backbone of our military. They are the girder of good order and discipline. They can handle this, they can handle this in each one of their communities.”
Spencer also said he disagreed with Trump calling Gallagher a “great fighter,” which he first did Monday and again at his Florida rally.
“I don’t think he really understands the full definition of a war fighter. A war fighter is a profession of arms,” Spencer said of Trump. “And a profession of arms has standards that they have to be held to and that they hold themselves to.”
Esper said Monday that Trump gave him direct orders to stop proceedings against Gallagher, who is set to retire from the Navy this weekend.