U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked Sunday for Navy Secretary Richard Spencer’s resignation over the handling of a case of a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes in Iraq, the Pentagon said.
Esper lost “trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor over conversations with the White House involving the handling of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher,” Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.
Gallagher was found guilty in July of posing with a teenage Daesh fighter’s corpse during his deployment to Mosul.
Last week, Trump ordered the Navy not to remove Gallagher from its elite SEALs special operation force.
“The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin,” Trump said on Twitter. “This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”
The Navy Trident pin symbolizes a special operator’s membership in the SEALs, and its removal would have effectively ended Gallagher’s career in the elite group of warfighters.
After speaking with Trump on Gallagher’s case Friday, Esper “learned that Secretary Spencer had previously and privately proposed to the White House — contrary to Spencer’s public position — to restore Gallagher’s rank and allow him to retire with his Trident pin,” said Hoffman.
The defense chief said in the statement he was “deeply troubled” by Spencer’s conduct.
“Unfortunately, as a result, I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position. I wish Richard well,” said Esper.
Esper proposed retired Rear Adm. Kenneth Braithwaite, the U.S. ambassador to Norway, to replace Spencer as Navy secretary, said Hoffman.
Shortly after Esper’s statement, Trump thanked Spencer for his service and said Gallagher “will retire peacefully with all of the honors that he has earned, including his Trident Pin.”
He confirmed Braithwaite to replace Spencer.
“A man of great achievement and success, I know Ken will do an outstanding job!” he added.