Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday he fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer because Spencer had gone behind his back to the White House on handling the case of Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher.
Esper said that Spencer had told him that he backed a review board to consider whether to pull Gallagher’s Trident pin, which meant kicking him out of the Seals. Esper said Spencer also said he would “probably resign” if the board was not allowed to go forward.
But then Spencer went behind his back to propose to the White House that the Navy conduct the review board, but ultimately find that he should keep his Trident pin, Esper said.
Esper said when he learned of the proposal, he lost confidence in Spencer and decided to ask for his resignation, independent of the president.
He explained his decision to Pentagon reporters on Monday. He said there are “some basic rules” he was taught to live by during his time in the military:
First, we have a chain of command that should be followed and that chain of command must be kept informed. Second, once we agree on a position, we stick to it and support it both in private and public. Third, if you don’t like that position, then simply resign, otherwise implement it as if you would implement any other order. Fourth, we don’t discuss sensitive internal deliberations, and fifth, we are responsible for our organizations and what they say and do, or don’t say and don’t do.
Secretary Spencer broke these rules and thus lost my trust and competence contrary to the narrative that some want to put forward in the media. This dismissal is not about Eddie Gallagher. It’s about Secretary Spencer and the chain of command.
Esper said he met with Army and Navy leadership a couple weeks back, where everyone agreed to support the Uniform Code of Military Justice and allow processes to play out.
But he said they also recognized that the commander in chief had “certain constitutional rights and powers, which he is free to exercise as many presidents have done in the past.”
He said after he returned from a trip to Asia on Thursday night and met with the president on Friday, they discussed Gallagher’s case. He said his position that the process play out on Gallagher’s Trident pin “remained unchanged and consistent” to what he had discussed with the Army and Navy leadership.
However, upon leaving the meeting, he said a senior White House official informed him that Spencer had proposed the deal where President Trump would let the Navy handle the case, but in return, Gallagher would be able to retain his Trident pin and permitted to retire.
Esper said, “This proposal was completely contrary to what we agreed to and contrary to Secretary Spencer’s public position.” He said he and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley were “completely caught off guard by this information and realized that it undermined everything we’ve been discussing with the president.”
Esper said it broke the rules he mentioned earlier, and he immediately called Spencer, who was “completely forthright.” He then spoke to the president late Saturday and informed him that he lost trust and confidence in the secretary and that he would ask for his resignation. He said the president supported his decision. Esper said he then called Spencer on Sunday afternoon and asked for his resignation.
“He took it in stride and said that he would have a letter to me within 30 minutes, and he did,” Esper said.
Esper said that on Sunday, Trump directed him that Gallagher retain his Trident pin.
Esper said he met with Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gilday to chart the way ahead.
“We all agreed the department must move beyond the issue of any one individual and focus on the institution and the mission. The case of Eddie Gallagher has dragged on for months and it’s distracting too many. It must end. Eddie Gallagher will retain his Trident as the commander in chief directed and will retire at the end of this month,” Esper said.
“I want the Seals and the Navy to move beyond this now and get fully focused on their war-fighting mission, and I also want them focused on resetting their professional standards, ethics, and conduct. These two issues are related. I know the service has plans to address this head on,” he said.
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