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Fired Navy official writes op-ed about Trump’s meddling in SEAL case

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  • Former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said President Donald Trump “has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military,” in a stunning opinion column published in The Washington Post, four days after he was forced to resign.
  • Spencer, who was ousted as the Navy’s top leader by Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday, writes that it was “shocking and unprecedented” for Trump to have interfered in the case of US Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher.
  • Trump did not serve in the military during the Vietnam War. Spencer served in the US Marine Corps as a helicopter pilot in the late 1970s.
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Former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said President Donald Trump “has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military,” in a stunning opinion column published in The Washington Post, four days after he was forced to resign.

Spencer, who was ousted as the Navy’s top leader by Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday, wrote that it was “shocking and unprecedented” for Trump to have interfered in the case of US Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, the Navy SEAL who was convicted of posing while being photographed with the corpse of an Islamic State militant.

Gallagher was accused of seven total charges, including premeditated murder of an ISIS detainee, but was acquitted of all but one charge. 

Soon after Gallagher was demoted a rank as part of his punishment, Trump ordered his rank to be restored. Trump also ordered Esper to allow Gallagher to retain his status as a Navy SEAL before retirement, effectively nixing a review board that was expected to determine if he would be allowed to keep his title. 

“This was a shocking and unprecedented intervention in a low-level review,” Spencer wrote in the column. “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.”

Richard spencer trump

President Donald Trump speaks with Acting Secretary of Defense Richard Spencer during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House on July 16th, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images


Trump did not serve in the military during the Vietnam War. He received four military deferments for college, and one for a bone spur diagnosis. 

Spencer served in the US Marine Corps as a helicopter pilot in the late 1970s.

In his column, Spencer scrutinized Trump’s influence during Gallagher’s trial. Spencer, who was contacted twice by Trump during Gallagher’s trial, said he sent him a note “not to get involved.”

White House counsel Pat Cipollone then called Spencer to say “the president would remain involved,” according to Spencer.

Spencer’s comments were similar to ones he made in a CBS News interview on Monday: “I don’t think he really understands the full definition of a warfighter,” Spencer said of Trump. “A warfighter is a profession of arms. And a profession of arms has standards that they have to be held to, and they hold themselves to.”

Trump, who claims Gallagher and other convicted or accused war criminals were mistreated by military leaders, characterized his actions as broadly supporting the troops.

“I think what I’m doing is sticking up for our armed forces,” Trump said to reporters on Monday. “And there’s never been a president that’s going to stick up for them and has, like I have.”

Spencer appears to disagree with Trump’s intervention and described it as “command influence,” a term that refers to military leaders abusing their position to influence the outcome of legal proceedings: “President Trump involved himself in the case almost from the start,” he writes.

“Americans need to know that 99.9% of our uniformed members always have, always are, and always will make the right decision,” Spencer adds. “Our allies need to know that we remain a force for good, and to please bear with us as we move through this moment in time.”

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