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Pentagon Chief Fires Navy Secretary Over Handling Of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher Case

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Defense Secretary Mike Esper said Sunday that he had lost confidence in Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and alleged that Spencer proposed a deal with the White House behind his back to resolve the SEAL’s case.

Speaker 1: 00:00 In a letter to president Trump, fired Navy secretary Richard Spencer writes, quote, I no longer share the same understanding with the commander in chief who appointed me. I cannot in good conscience, obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath. I took unquote. That was Spencer's response to the president's most recent intervention. In the case of Navy seal chief Edward Gallagher, the Gallagher case has already led to a review of the Navy's military justice system and now the firing of the secretary of the Navy journey, me, his KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh, who's been covering this case from the beginning. And Steve, welcome back. Hi Maureen, can you explain the order that secretary Richard Spencer says he cannot obey? What did the president want the Navy to do?

Speaker 2: 00:48 Well, that that is the question here. What, what was the actual order we're talking about? But I really need to take a step back and just say, you know, this has been a giant soap opera, let's call it as the Trident turns here. You remember way back when this began back at the beginning of the year, Trump intervened to try to remove Gallagher from the brig. He talked to pardoning him pretrial and Memorial day. Some outcry came from conservative, so he let the process play out and then during the trial, seven seals testify against him. Uh, but he's acquitted to the most serious charges on the stand. Corey Scott says he killed the detainee himself by closing off his breathing tube, not Gallagher. Uh, he was convicted of this one charge posing with the corpse. The CNO came back and upheld his demotion, which was part of the original sentence. And then there came these reports more recently that Trump wanted to restore a Gallagher to chief secretary of defense.

Speaker 2: 01:47 Mark Esper meets with Trump's trying to convince him not to intervene in this case, that it would happen to impact on good order and discipline in the military. Trump restores the rank anyway. Then the head of Naval special warfare, Admiral Collin rear Admiral Colin green announces that this Trident review board to remove Gallagher from the Navy seals in late Friday. There's reports that the secretary of Navy, Richard Spencer is, he's going to resign if Trump intervenes. Spencer then denies this publicly that he was trying to resign. Then on Sunday, Spencer is fired by the secretary of defense, Mark Esper saying green basically lied to him far from resigning. Spencer was actually trying to work out a deal with the white house to let Gallagher keep his Trident. So if that's the case, he doesn't exactly leave a hero. Spencer, on the other hand, indicates that in his own letter that I cannot in good conscience obey in order that I believe violates the S that sacred oath that I took in the presence of my family, my flag, and my faith. Who is telling the truth? I don't. We, we're going to find out really soon I suppose, but it has been tremendous soap opera and it's changed almost every few hours.

Speaker 1: 03:03 Can you explain the order that secretary Richard Spencer says he cannot obey? What did the president want the Navy to do?

Speaker 2: 03:11 The precedent, uh, wanted to stop the Trident review board by Admiral Colin green.

Speaker 1: 03:17 How does the Trident review work?

Speaker 2: 03:19 This is actually, um, Admiral Collin, rear Admiral Collin green, the head of Naval special warfare. He's the one who, uh, ultimately is the ultimate authority in this. But there will be review of a couple of different off officers we've already know from talking to some of the attorneys involved in the case that they were asked to submit information in their own defense. But there, this is not like a court martial. They won't be going to trial. Um, they're simply going to have this review done by officers behind the scenes.

Speaker 1: 03:49 And these are a Navy seal officers who would be doing this review. They wouldn't deed. And why is keeping your Triton such a big deal?

Speaker 2: 03:58 I've had it described to me as the equivalent of your pilot's wings. It's your essentially your, uh, your, your, um, authority to practice being a Navy seal. It is essentially you stay within the Navy, but you are kicked out of the, uh, uh, the seals themselves.

Speaker 1: 04:16 Gallagher says the effort to review his Trident was all about the military brasses ego. Here he is on Fox news this weekend.

Speaker 3: 04:24 It says nothing to do with good order. And discipline. They could have taken my Trident at any, anytime they wanted. Now they're trying to take it after the president restored my rank and after we just filed an IgG exposing all of the corruption that's been going on during my case all the way up to Admiral green. Um, and just recently we've come up with more evidence that we'll be exposing next week that the secretary of the Navy was actually meddling in my case and trying to get organizations not to support me while I was incarcerated.

Speaker 1: 04:54 First of all, how does an active duty Navy seal talk about his case on a TV show?

Speaker 2: 04:58 Well, Gallagher has been a special case this since this entire episode began. He's a, his brother and his wife have been routinely on conservative talk radio as well as on a Fox news guy, Gallagher for the most part. As this was going through the court process, he had a, he had not appeared himself. He's, he has been on a couple of different, um, television shows, but mostly he's, he has stayed behind the scenes, uh, letting his family and his attorney Tim palpatory go on Fox news to make his case, knowing that the president watches Fox news and that they don't even have to work behind the scenes. His attorney told me he, they know they have the presidency or

Speaker 1: 05:38 now, former Navy secretary Spencer says in his letter that he's out because he can't obey the president's order. But there's confusion about this because the secretary of defense says it's about a back room deal. What, what is that argument?

Speaker 2: 05:54 Well, secretary of defense, Mark Esper has said to his face, um, secretary of the Navy, uh, Richard Spencer had told him that he supported, uh, the notion of the Trident review board going forward. Turns out, according to Mark Esper that Spencer was working directly with the white house to work out a, uh, a deal to allow Gallagher to keep this Trident. I've been speaking with KPBS military reporter Steve wall. Steve, thank you very much. All right.

Speaker 4: 06:28 [inaudible].

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.