A U.S. Navy SEAL facing a move to expel him from the elite commando force was told Thursday that the Navy proceedings against him will go forward, despite a declaration to the contrary from President Donald Trump, the sailor's lawyer said.
In a Twitter message criticizing the Navy's handling of the case, Trump pledged that Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, acquitted of murder but convicted of posing for pictures with the corpse of an Iraqi detainee, would retain his status in the SEALs.
"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!" Trump said in his tweet.
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2019
The president's latest intervention in the war crimes case against Gallagher, 40, came nearly a week after Trump ordered the Navy to reverse the demotion in rank and pay grade imposed on Gallagher as his court-martial sentence.
However, the Navy's top SEAL, Rear Admiral Collin Green, commander of naval special warfare, followed Trump's move by convening a "trident review board" to weigh whether Gallagher was fit to remain in the SEAL corps. Gallagher was formally notified Wednesday that he was under review, with a hearing set for Dec. 2.
Trump's tweet on Thursday appeared to escalate the prospect of a showdown between the president and senior Navy leadership supporting Green's decision to review Gallagher's SEAL status.
A short time later, Gallagher was told face-to-face by a representative of the Green's special warfare command at Naval Base Coronado, near San Diego, that the trident review board hearing would go forward as planned, according to Gallagher's lead defense attorney, Timothy Parlatore.
Parlatore told Reuters he took the meaning of Trump's declaration on Twitter as "unequivocal," saying he considered it a "direct and lawful order from the commander-in-chief."
Critics said Trump's moves to weigh in on war crime cases undermined military justice and sent a message that battlefield atrocities would be tolerated.