Former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said Monday that President Trump‘s move to block a conduct review of a Navy SEAL acquitted of war crimes sends a message that service members “can get away with things.”
Speaking in his first interview since his termination, Spencer emphasized to CBS that the military needed to have “good order and discipline” and defended the review process initiated for Navy SEALs.
Asked about what message Trump’s move to thwart the review of Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher sent, Spencer responded, “That you can get away with things.”
CBS NEWS EXCLUSIVE: The fired Navy secretary tells @CBSDavidMartin President Trump’s decision to stop a Pentagon review of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher sends a message “that you can get away with things.” Tonight on the #CBSEveningNews at 6:30 p.m. ET. https://t.co/msMGXn3sEv pic.twitter.com/czbr8y7B5S
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) November 25, 2019
“We have to have good order and discipline. It’s the backbone of what we do,” Spencer said. “The Trident review process with the senior enlisted reviewing fellow senior enlisted is critical.”
The comments from Spencer came less than 24 hours after Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked for his resignation over how he handled the war crimes case involving Gallagher. The Pentagon said Sunday that Spencer’s ouster resulted from the official circumventing normal channels and making a request of the White House with regard to the case.
The request had came as the Navy came under increasing fire from the president over its preparations to perform a conduct review into Gallagher’s alleged war crimes.
Gallagher faced prosecution earlier this year by the Navy for allegedly stabbing and killing a wounded ISIS militant and posing for a picture with the corpse. A military jury convicted Gallagher, 40, of posing with the corpse, but acquitted him of several other charges, including murder.
His conviction resulted in a loss of rank and reduction in pay. He received no jail time for his conviction, and Trump shortly after ordered his rank to be restored.
The upcoming conduct review led Trump to publicly declare last week that the Navy would “NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin,” which designates him a SEAL.
Esper confirmed on Monday that Trump ordered him to allow Gallagher to keep his Trident pin before retiring.
“I spoke with the President on Sunday. He gave me the order that Eddie Gallagher will retain his Trident pin,” Esper said.
In a letter announcing his exit, Spencer appeared to contradict the Pentagon’s reasoning for his ouster, saying that he was leaving because “I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
“Unfortunately, it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me,” Spencer wrote.
He added in his interview with CBS that Trump doesn’t understand “the full definition of a warfighter.”
“A warfighter is a profession of arms. And a profession of arms has standards that they have to be held to and that they hold themselves to,” he said.
“This has nothing to do with good order and discipline,” he said. “They could have taken my trident at any time they wanted. Now they’re trying to take it after the president restored my rank.”
UPDATED 8:46 p.m.