President Donald Trump, in the latest development in a high-profile scandal over alleged war crimes by Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, has publicly castigated Navy officials for moving to punish Gallagher and overruled the military’s plan to strip Gallagher of his Navy SEAL status.
“The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin,” Trump tweeted Thursday, in reference to the insignia that denotes status as a SEAL. “This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”
Gallagher had been accused of murdering a teenage captive in Iraq, as well as shooting unarmed civilians. But a military court in July acquitted Gallagher of most of the war crime charges leveled against him, leaving him only with the charge of posing for a photo with the teenager’s body. His conviction on the lesser charge led the military to reduce his rank from chief to petty officer first class. On Friday, Trump reversed that demotion and pardoned two other soldiers. Some military officials criticized the interference in military justice.
According to the New York Times, the Navy officials who were moving to strip Gallagher of his membership in the SEALs—a process they started Monday—thought they were doing so with approval from the White House. Those involved in discussions over the demotion were not minor players: They included the commander of Naval Special Warfare, the secretary of the Navy, the chief of naval operations, and the secretary of defense.
It’s not clear exactly why Trump spoke out against an action that he had allegedly approved (it’s possible, as the Times pointed out, that the there were communication breakdowns along the way), but Gallagher’s lawyer did appear on Fox News shortly before Trump announced his decision. The lawyer accused naval leadership, and Rear Adm. Collin Green in particular, of openly defying Trump. “What he’s doing here is really just an effort to publicly humiliate Chief Gallagher and stick it right in the president’s eye,” Gallagher’s lawyer said. Fox News figures had in the past joined other conservatives in pleading publicly with the president to pardon Gallagher.