President Donald Trump’s move to block a conduct review of Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, the Navy SEAL who was convicted of posing with the corpse of an ISIS fighter, sends a message to service members that they can “get away with things,” ousted Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said Monday.
He also insisted in an interview airing on “CBS Evening News” that he had been fired before he could resign.
“I never threatened to resign,” Spencer told CBS News’ David Martin. “I don’t threaten. I got fired.”
Esper told reporters Monday he had fired Spencer after “losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor,” accusing the former secretary of proposing a deal to the White House allowing Gallagher to retire and keep his Trident pin denoting his status as a SEAL. Esper said that was “completely contrary” to what he and Spencer discussed.
Spencer said Monday he had spoken with White House counsel Pat Cipollone on Nov. 15, proposing his plan under the condition that Trump not intervene in the case and allow the Navy to do its administrative work. However, Cipollone called him back later to decline the offer and to tell him Trump would remain involved.
He admitted he would “take the bad on me” for not telling Esper about the plan.
“Arguably, he doesn’t have to deal with anyone,” Spencer said. “He said, ‘I’m going to be involved.’ He sent a signed letter to me, an order with his signature on it, saying, ‘Promote Edward Gallagher to E7,'” the rank of chief petty officer.
Esper said Spencer was “completely forthright” about the plan.
Gallagher had faced nearly a dozen war crimes charges over allegations he opened fire on civilians and murdered a captured ISIS fighter, while threatening fellow SEALs about revealing what he had done. He was acquitted of all charges except for posing with the ISIS fighter’s corpse.
The Navy opted to demote Gallagher, but Trump ordered that reversed and last week tweeted that Gallager, as a “warfighter,” would not have his Trident pin taken away.
Spencer said Monday he does not think Mr. Trump “really understands the full definition of a warfighter,” as that is a “profession of arms and a profession of arms has standards that they have to be held to, and they hold themselves to.”