Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has asked for the resignation of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer amid controversy over the handling of a case involving a Navy SEAL convicted of illegally posing for pictures with the corpse of an ISIS fighter.
Spencer had reportedly threatened to quit his post after President Donald Trump intervened in the case of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher. Trump said on Twitter Thursday he would not allow the Navy to strip Gallagher of the Trident pin denoting his membership in the elite SEAL group.
Spencer responded by telling the White House that a Twitter post is not an official order and Trump would have to order the end of the disciplinary proceeding in writing. The Navy Secretary had denied over the weekend that he had threatened to resign.
In his letter of resignation, Spencer said the rule of law is what sets the United States apart from its adversaries and he could not in good conscience obey an order that would violate the oath he took to support and defend the Constitution.
Spencer said it had become clear that he and Trump no longer share the same understanding of the key principles of good order and discipline.
"The President deserves and should expect a Secretary of the Navy who is aligned with his vision for the future and our force generation and sustainment," Spencer said.
Trump said in a Twitter post Sunday that Spencer was fired over the way the Navy handled Gallagher's case as well as cost overruns that were not addressed to his satisfaction. Ken Braithwaite, admiral and ambassador to Norway, will be nominated to replace Spencer, Trump said.
Gallagher, 40, was demoted in rank and pay grade after being convicted by a military jury in July of illegally posing for pictures with the corpse of an ISIS fighter. He was acquitted of premeditated murder for allegedly killing a wounded captive during his 2017 deployment to Iraq. Earlier this month, Trump ordered that the Navy restore Gallagher's status.
Last week, Spencer said that Gallagher's membership in the SEAL community should be decided by a board of his peers.
The Pentagon said in a statement that Defense Secretary Esper had lost trust and confidence in Spencer over "his lack of candor" over conversations with the White House regarding Gallagher's case.
The Pentagon accused Spencer of privately proposing to the White House that Gallagher's rank be restored and allow him to retire with his Trident pin, contrary to the Navy Secretary's public position. Spencer never informed Esper of his private proposal, according to the Pentagon.
Esper has directed that Gallagher retain his Trident pin and will meet with Navy Under Secretary Thomas Modley, who will now serve as acting Navy Secretary, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday on Monday to discuss the way forward.