US Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday fired the Navy’s top official for allegedly proposing a deal with the White House behind Esper’s back to resolve the matter of a Navy SEAL whose case that has been championed by President Donald Trump, The Associated Press reports.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer submitted his resignation at Esper’s request, said the chief spokesman for the Pentagon, Jonathan Hoffman.
Esper said he has recommended to the White House that Trump nominate as Spencer’s successor the current US ambassador to Norway, Kenneth Braithwaite, a retired Navy rear admiral.
The firing follows controversy involving Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher. On Wednesday, the Navy notified Gallagher that he would face a Navy SEAL review board to determine if he should be allowed to remain in the elite force.
Gallagher was acquitted of a murder charge in the stabbing death of an Islamic State (ISIS) captive, but a military jury convicted him of posing with the corpse while in Iraq in 2017. He was demoted from chief petty officer to a 1st class petty officer.
Trump restored Gallagher’s rank earlier this month.
In a statement issued by Hoffman, Esper said he had lost “trust and confidence” in Spencer after learning that the Navy secretary had “privately” proposed to the White House that Gallagher be allowed to retire in his current rank and without losing his status as a SEAL.
Esper said that in previous conversations with Spencer about the Gallagher matter, Spencer had not told Esper of his proposal to the White House.
The Defense Secretary faulted Spencer for a “lack of candor” on the matter.
“I am deeply troubled by this conduct shown by a senior DOD official. Unfortunately, as a result I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position. I wish Richard well," wrote Esper.
Trump weighed in on Spencer’s dismissal on Sunday, writing on Twitter, “I was not pleased with the way that Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s trial was handled by the Navy. He was treated very badly but, despite this, was completely exonerated on all major charges. I then restored Eddie’s rank.”
“Likewise, large cost overruns from past administration’s contracting procedures were not addressed to my satisfaction. Therefore, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer’s services have been terminated by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper,” added Trump.
“I thank Richard for his service & commitment. Eddie will retire peacefully with all of the honors that he has earned, including his Trident Pin. Admiral and now Ambassador to Norway Ken Braithwaite will be nominated by me to be the new Secretary of the Navy. A man of great achievement and success, I know Ken will do an outstanding job!”