Esper Ousts Navy Secretary in Trump SEAL Fallout

November 26, 2019by Andrew Kostic
Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked and received the resignation of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer on Sunday over his handling of the case of a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes in Iraq. in this file photo, Spencer, then-secretary of the Navy speaks with crew members of the USS Gabrielle Giffords at Naval Base San Diego in 2017. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

NEW YORK — Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked and received the resignation of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer on Sunday over his handling of the case of a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes in Iraq, the Pentagon said in a statement.

Esper acted after learning Spencer had approached White House officials privately about the case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a case President Donald Trump has been interested in for months. The request was first reported by the Washington Post.

The secretary lost “trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor over conversations with the White House involving the handling of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher,” Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in an emailed statement.

The defense secretary learned that Spencer had privately proposed to the White House to restore Gallagher’s rank and allow him to retire with his Trident pin while the Navy pursued disciplinary actions, at odds with his public position on the issue, Hoffman said. Stripping an individual of the pin allows them to remain in the Navy after leaving the elite SEAL unit.

“I am deeply troubled by this conduct shown by a senior DOD official,” Esper said in the statement. “I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position. I wish Richard well.”

Kenneth Braithwaite, the current U.S. Ambassador to Norway and a retired Navy Rear Admiral, has been proposed by Esper for consideration as the next Secretary of the Navy. Navy Under Secretary Thomas Modley will take on the role for now.

Trump criticized the Navy’s handling of the case in a tweet on Thursday, and promoted an appearance by Gallagher Sunday on Fox News.

Spencer, 65, has served as Navy Secretary since August 2017. The former U.S. Marine worked on Wall Street for about 15 years, including time at investment bank Goldman Sachs.

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