U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has asked Navy Secretary Richard Spencer to resign, citing his handling of the case of a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes in Iraq.
Esper asked for the resignation Sunday and Spencer submitted it, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said.
The request involved the case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was accused of war crimes committed during his deployment to Iraq in 2017. He was acquitted of the more serious charges of murder but found guilty of posing with the body of a teenaged Islamic State militant. As a result, Gallagher was demoted.
But U.S. President Donald Trump intervened in the case and pardoned him and restored his rank and pay.
When Trump learned last week that the Navy planned to bring Gallagher before a review board to determine if he could continue to wear the Trident Pin, which signifies membership in the elite commando unit, he intervened again.
Trump tweeted: “The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”
The Pentagon said Esper asked for Spencer's resignation after learning that the secretary had privately proposed to White House officials that if they stopped meddling in the Gallagher case, Spencer would make sure that Gallagher would be able to resign as a Navy SEAL. The Washington Post first reported this story.
That information was not disclosed to Esper during conversations he had with Spencer, Hoffman said.
“Unfortunately, as a result, I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position,” Esper said in a statement released Sunday.
Esper has told the president to consider Kenneth Braithwaite, current U.S. ambassador to Norway and a retired Navy rear admiral, as the next secretary of the Navy, Hoffman said.