A showdown between President Donald Trump and the US Navy may be shaping up over an attempt to expel a commando from the elite SEAL force. Vague statements and conflicting reports are adding to confusion about the case.
After the Navy announced that it would carry out a Trident review to consider expelling Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher from the SEALs earlier this week, Trump stepped in with a tweet, insisting that nothing of the sort would be happening.
“The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin,” the president said on Thursday. “This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”
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
Gallagher was accused of war crimes during his 2017 deployment to Iraq – including stabbing a wounded prisoner and shooting at unarmed civilians – and was court-martialed a year later on seven charges. While he was ultimately cleared on the most serious allegations, he was sentenced to a demotion by one rank for posing for a photo with a corpse. That sentence was reversed last week by Trump, who defended Gallagher during and after his court-martial.
While several Navy and Defense officials told the New York Times they were under the impression the Trident review had approval from the White House, the president’s tweet on Thursday threw the matter into uncertainty, prompting the Navy to comment.
“The Navy follows the lawful orders of the President,” said its top spokesman, Rear Admiral Charles Brown. “We will do so in case of an order to stop the administrative review of SOC Gallagher’s professional qualification. We are aware of the President’s tweet and we are awaiting further guidance.”
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Brown’s statement may have generated more questions than answers, however, as he did not specify whether the review had been officially paused and would only resume on the president’s say-so, or if the proceedings would only halt after an explicit order issued through the proper channels, rather than a presidential tweet.
This resulted in conflicting media reports, with NPR headlining a story to the effect that the review would “press on,” while other outlets took the same statement to mean the process had been “halted.”
Adding to the confusion, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was quoted by Reuters on Friday as saying that he favored going ahead with Gallagher’s review, despite the president’s opposition.
“I believe the process matters for good order and discipline,” he told a reporter while at a conference in Halifax, Canada. Spencer did not shed any further light on whether the review was halted or proceeding, either.
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In addition to reversing Gallagher’s demotion, Trump’s clemency order last Friday also pardoned two Army officers facing war crimes charges, one awaiting trial and the other already behind bars.
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