Ousted Navy Secretary Richard Spencer Admits He Didn’t Tell Esper of Proposed SEAL Arrangement

November 26, 2019 Updated: November 26, 2019

Recently ousted Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said he did not tell Secretary of Defense Mark Esper about trying to cut a deal with the White House in the case of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher.

Esper cited “lack of candor” surrounding the negotiations as the reason he asked Spencer to resign.

Spencer told CBS in an interview that aired late Nov. 25, two days after he was forced out, that he spoke to White House counsel Pat Cipollone on Nov. 15. Spencer proposed a deal that would see Gallagher retiring as a SEAL if President Donald Trump didn’t intervene in the case.

Cipollone called back later that day and declined the offer.

“In order to preserve the resiliency of the naval institution, I had to step up and do something when it came to the Gallagher case,” Spencer said.

As for not telling Esper, Spencer told CBS: “I will take the bad on me, for not letting him know I did that. But as far as I was concerned, at that point, the president understood the deal. Arguably, he doesn’t have to deal with anyone. He said, ‘I’m going to be involved.’ He sent a signed letter to me, an order with his signature on it, saying, ‘Promote Edward Gallagher to E7.'”

The situation revolved around Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was acquitted of murdering a captive ISIS militant in July. Gallagher was convicted of unlawfully posing for photographs with the militant’s dead body and sentenced to a demotion.

Edward Gallagher and wife
Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher (C) and his wife Andrea celebrate after being acquitted of all but one charge in San Diego, Calif., on July 2, 2019. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
Defense Secretary Mark Esper attends the press conference after the 51st Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul on Nov. 15, 2019. (Jeon Heon-Kyun-Pool/Getty Images)

Prosecutors in the case were awarded medals, which Trump later revoked. The president on Nov. 15 ordered the Navy to restore the rank of Gallagher.

Spencer told CBS that he followed Trump’s order but then launched an administrative peer review process, which could have led to Gallagher being kicked out of the SEALs entirely, or losing his Trident pin. Spencer told Esper’s chief of staff and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney about the process on Nov. 19 before formally opening the review board the next day.

On Nov. 21, Trump took to Twitter to state, “The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin.”

Spencer denied reports that he threatened to resign—he said he was fired—but also said that he didn’t consider the tweet an order.

In a letter released after his ouster, Spencer said his view of military justice had diverged from Trump’s.

“I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline. I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath that I took in the presence of my family, my flag, and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” he wrote.

Esper said that due to the events that transpired, the review of Gallagher was stopped and the SEAL would keep his Trident.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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