The Slatest

Ex–Navy Secretary: Trump “Has Very Little Understanding of What it Means to Be in the Military”

Richard Spencer listens to President Donald Trump during a cabinet meeting at the White House July 16, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
Richard Spencer listens to President Donald Trump during a cabinet meeting at the White House July 16, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who was fired last weekend, harshly criticized President Donald Trump in an op-ed piece, blasting the commander in chief for getting involved in a case involving a Navy SEAL who had been accused of war crimes. Writing in the Washington Post, Spencer detailed just how much Trump tried to get involved in the review of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher “almost from the start” and then at every stage of the process, which was highly unusual.

“This was a shocking and unprecedented intervention in a low-level review,” Spencer wrote. “It was also a reminder that the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.” Before the trial against Gallagher began, Trump got involved twice. Both times he called on Spencer to remove Gallagher from the Navy brig where he was being detained. Spencer tried to push back but Trump eventually ordered the transfer. “I came to believe that Trump’s interest in the case stemmed partly from the way the defendant’s lawyers and others had worked to keep it front and center in the media,” Spencer wrote.

Gallagher was eventually acquitted of all charges except for wrongfully posing for photographs with the body of a dead ISIS fighter. After the trial was over, Gallagher voluntarily filed a request to retire. At that point, the question was whether he would be able to keep his rank and if he would be able to retain his status as a SEAL. Spencer claims he asked Trump not to get involved, but the White House counsel made it clear the president would not back down. Trump then ordered Gallagher’s rank be restored and later tweeted that Gallagher would be keeping his Trident pin.

“I recognized that the tweet revealed the president’s intent,” Spencer wrote Wednesday. “But I did not believe it to be an official order, chiefly because every action taken by the president in the case so far had either been a verbal or written command.” Spencer then claims he tried to find a way to prevent Trump from getting involved with the peer-review board that would decide Gallagher’s fate as a SEAL. And he did so without briefing Defense Secretary Mark Esper. “That was, I see in retrospect, a mistake for which I am solely responsible,” he wrote.

Spencer ends the op-ed by praising the military and sending a message to U.S. allies: “Please bear with us as we move through this moment in time.”