Defense Secretary Mark Esper has fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and ordered that Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher keep his trident, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed on Sunday.
“Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper has asked for the resignation of Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer after losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor over conversations with the White House involving the handling of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher,” Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.
Esper has also ended the Navy's plans to hold a review board, which would recommend to the head of Naval Special Warfare Command whether to revoke Gallagher's SEAL trident, Hoffman said.
“Secretary Esper's position with regard to UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice], disciplinary, and fitness for duty actions has always been that the process should be allowed to play itself out objectively and deliberately, in fairness to all parties,” Hoffman said in the statement. “However, at this point, given the events of the last few days, Secretary Esper has directed that Gallagher retain his Trident pin.”
The move is the final defeat for the Navy, which had tried to kick Gallagher out of the elite SEAL community after Gallagher was acquitted of murder in July.
“You can never predict what happens next in this case,” Gallagher's attorney Timothy Parlatore told Task & Purpose on Sunday.
The Washington Post first reported that Esper asked Spencer to step down after learning that Spencer promised White House officials that Gallagher would retire with his trident if they did not interfere with his review board.
“I am deeply troubled by this conduct shown by a senior DOD official,” Esper said in a statement. “Unfortunately, as a result I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position. I wish Richard well.”
A military jury acquitted Gallagher of murder in July but he was convicted of posing for a picture with a dead ISIS fighter and sentenced to be reduced one rank to first class petty officer. On Nov. 15, President Donald Trump ordered that Gallagher be restored to the rank and paygrade of chief petty officer. Gallagher's conviction still stands.
I was not pleased with the way that Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s trial was handled by the Navy. He was treated very badly but, despite this, was completely exonerated on all major charges. I then restored Eddie’s rank. Likewise, large cost overruns from past administration’s…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 24, 2019
Trump has given Gallagher extensive support, including ordering him released from pretrial confinement and having his personal attorney join Gallagher's legal team.
In a series of tweets on Sunday night, the president explained that Spencer had been fired because the Navy had mishandled the Gallagher case and treated the SEAL “very badly.”
Trump also cited “large cost overruns” from past administrations and “contracting procedures were not addressed to my satisfaction,” but he did not elaborate further.
During Spencer's tenure as Navy secretary, he struggled to get all 11 of the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford's weapons elevators to work. As of Oct. 31, only four of the $13 billion carrier's elevators were functioning properly.
“Therefore, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer's services have been terminated by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper,” the president tweeted. “I thank Richard for his service & commitment. Eddie will retire peacefully with all of the honors that he has earned, including his Trident Pin. Admiral and now Ambassador to Norway Ken Braithwaite will be nominated by me to be the new Secretary of the Navy. A man of great achievement and success, I know Ken will do an outstanding job!”
Read Chief Pentagon Spokesman Jonathan Hoffman's full statement:
“Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper has asked for the resignation of Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer after losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor over conversations with the White House involving the handling of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher.
After Secretary Esper and Chairman Milley spoke with the Commander in Chief on Friday regarding the case of Gallagher, Secretary Esper learned that Secretary Spencer had previously and privately proposed to the White House – contrary to Spencer's public position – to restore Gallagher's rank and allow him to retire with his Trident pin. When recently asked by Secretary Esper, Secretary Spencer confirmed that despite multiple conversations on the Gallagher matter, Secretary Esper was never informed by Secretary Spencer of his private proposal.
Secretary Esper's position with regard to UCMJ, disciplinary, and fitness for duty actions has always been that the process should be allowed to play itself out objectively and deliberately, in fairness to all parties. However, at this point, given the events of the last few days, Secretary Esper has directed that Gallagher retain his Trident pin. Secretary Esper will meet with Navy Undersecretary (now Acting Secretary) Thomas Modley and the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday on Monday morning to discuss the way ahead.
“I am deeply troubled by this conduct shown by a senior DOD official.” said Secretary Esper. “Unfortunately, as a result I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position. I wish Richard well.”
Secretary Esper has proposed to the President that Ambassador Kenneth Braithwaite, current U.S. Ambassador to Norway and a retired Navy Rear Admiral, be considered as the next Secretary of the Navy.”
This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.