Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Rear Adm. Collin Green, the head of Naval Special Warfare Command, have both reportedly vowed that they will either resign or be be fired rather than follow President Donald Trump's instructions to stop all efforts to revoke Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher's trident.
The New York Times first reported on Saturday that Spencer and Green had effectively given Trump an ultimatum that could cost them their careers. Reporters Maggie Haberman, Helene Cooper, and Dave Philipps broke the story.
Spencer reportedly disputed the story while speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada.
“Contrary to popular belief, I'm still here. I didn't threaten to resign,” Business Insider quoted Spencer as saying. “But let us just say that we're here to talk about external threats, and Eddie Gallagher is not one of them.”
Task & Purpose confirmed on Saturday that plans for Gallagher to face a trident review board were moving forward even though a senior Navy official had said earlier that the board was on hold while the Navy waited for a written order cancelling the proceedings.
"Contrary to popular belief, I am still here. I did not threaten to resign. We are here to talk about external threats and Eddie Gallagher is not one of them." pic.twitter.com/ysa5A6pYkd
— SECNAV76 (@secnav76) November 23, 2019
Spencer later said he would cancel the review board if he received a written order from the president to do so, Defense News reporter Joe Gould tweeted on Saturday.
“If the president requests that the process stop, the process stops,” Gould quoted Spencer as saying. “Good order and discipline is also obeying orders from the president of the United States.”
It was not immediately clear what actions the president might take now. Trump has supported Gallagher for months. He ordered that Gallagher be released from pretrial confinement, lent his personal attorney to Gallagher's defense team, congratulated Gallagher for being acquitted of murder, and ordered the Navy to rescind medals that had been awarded to prosecutors in the case.
The White House did not provide a comment for this story.
This latest development in the long running Eddie Gallagher saga comes a day after Spencer told Reuters in an interview that he believed Gallagher should still face a review board that would recommend to Green whether he keeps his trident, even though the president tweeted on Thursday, “The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher's Trident Pin.”
Though Spencer acknowledged that Trump is the commander in chief and has the final say on the matter, when asked if the proceedings against Gallagher should continue, Spencer told Reuters, “Yes, I do.”
“I think we have a process in place, which we're going forward with, and that's my job,” Reuters quoted Spencer as saying.
Spencer's spokeswoman Cmdr. Sarah Higgins insisted that the secretary and the White House are on the same page. She also said that Spencer's comments to Reuters were “in line with current White House guidance.”
Representatives for Naval Special Warfare Command could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
Gallagher was acquitted of murder in July but a military jury convicted him of posing for a picture with a dead ISIS fighter. He was demoted to first class petty officer, but on Nov. 15 Trump ordered that Gallagher be restored to the rank and paygrade of chief petty officer. His conviction still stands.
Then, the New York Times' David Philipps reported on Nov. 19 that Green wanted Gallagher and three other SEALs whom he served with to appear before a review board next month, which would recommend whether their tridents would be revoked. The final decision would be made by Green himself.
UPDATE: This story has been updated with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer's comments disputing the New York Times' reporting that he threatened to resign.
Task & Purpose's James Clark contributed to this story.