Reversal: Secretary of the Navy out over Gallagher review

When we looked at the situation involving the Secretary of the Navy and the pending hearings for Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher yesterday, it appeared to have settled into a comfortable resolution. Secretary Richard Spenser had conceded that the President had the final word on what happened with Gallagher and the White House had stated it was staying out of the matter and letting the SEALs handle the matter internally.

Well, that lasted for all of six hours or so. While many of us were settling in to watch football, Spencer was on his way out the door. If you take Spencer at this word, he quit after a disagreement with the Secretary of Defense. But the Pentagon and the White House are saying he was fired (or more accurately, had been “asked for his resignation”) because of a secret deal he was cooking up to save Gallagher’s Trident pin. (NY Post)

Defense Secretary Mark Esper canned Navy Secretary Richard Spencer over his handling of the internal disciplinary review of SEAL Eddie Gallagher.

Esper asked Spencer to resign after discovering that the Navy secretary had privately told the White House that if it did not intervene in Gallagher’s case, Spencer would make sure Gallagher would be able to retire and keep his Trident pin that designates him as an elite warrior, The Washington Post reported.

Spencer did not inform Esper of the proposal during a number of conversations and contradicted his public stand on how Gallagher’s review should proceed.

The President has already picked a successor to Spencer and will nominate U.S. ambassador to Norway and retired Navy rear admiral Kenneth Braithwaite.

Maybe it’s just me, but this entire story doesn’t make any sense. Trump made it clear from the beginning that the end goal was to make sure Gallagher kept both his rank and his Trident pin, marking him as a member of the SEALs. At least in public, Spencer had been pushing to allow the SEALs to handle the matter internally, seemingly putting him at odds with the President.

But now we’re being told that under the covers, Spencer was cooking up a deal to allow Gallagher to simply retire and keep his Trident pin if the matter couldn’t be resolved otherwise. That would seemingly satisfy the President, along with Spencer’s previous public kowtowing to the Commander in Chief as the person controlling the final decision. And that’s what Esper fired him for?

Doesn’t it seem more likely that the person who exposed the secret deal to grant Trump’s wish (the Secretary of Defense) would be the one getting their walking papers? One other possibility is that Spencer really did cook this up on his own but neither Gallagher nor Trump wanted to see the SEAL retire, preferring that he stay on active duty and remain a SEAL. That would at least make a little more sense, particularly when you consider that there’s zero chance Esper would have dumped Spencer without talking to the President first. Either way, it definitely sounds like there’s more going on here than what we’re hearing from the official White House line.

What’s not resolved yet is Gallagher’s future. While Spencer and his alleged deal may be gone, as things stand now the review board scheduled to consider Gallagher’s future with the SEALs is still set to move forward. If they hold their hearings and conclude that his pin should be pulled and then President Trump turns around and orders them to let him keep it, the President will be seriously micromanaging the military and overriding the decisions of some of their most senior people. If wants to derail this train, he should step in before the hearings convene and order them to be canceled.

But as I wrote yesterday, that’s still a terrible idea. No matter how fond Trump may be of Gallagher, he should allow the military’s top brass to handle disciplinary matters as they see fit. This sort of direct interference with the chain of command is bad for morale and will undermine discipline (something Spencer accuses him of in his resignation letter) and the President’s command of the military.