Richard Spencers ousting is latest twist in saga over Edward Gallagher, who had Trumps backing
The US defence secretary, Mark Esper, has fired the navys top official over his handling of the case of a Navy Seal officer accused of war crimes in Iraq who later won the support of Donald Trump.
Richard Spencer, the navy secretary, acknowledged his termination on Sunday after Esper said he had lost confidence in him.
Trump has championed Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, tweeting on the subject and reversing a military disciplinary decision.
Gallagher was acquitted of a murder charge related to the 2017 stabbing death of an Islamic State fighter but was demoted.
Trump intervened last week, ordering the navy to restore Gallaghers pay and rank, a move that would allow him to retire with a full pension.
Spencers firing was a dramatic turn in the fast-changing and politically charged controversy. It has exposed fissures in Trumps relationship with the highest ranks of the US military and raised questions about the appropriate role of a commander-in-chief in matters of military justice.
It was reported on Sunday that Esper asked for Spencers resignation after learning that he had privately proposed to White House officials that if they did not interfere with proceedings against Gallagher, Spencer would ensure that Gallagher was able to retire as a Navy Seal, with his Trident insignia [the badge denoting qualification for the elite force].
The Washington Post reported that Spencer did not share this private proposal with Esper. Esper said he was deeply troubled by this conduct and added: Unfortunately, as a result I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position. I wish Richard well.
In Spencers resignation, the ousted navy secretary described the rule of law in the armed forces as what sets us apart from our adversaries and that good order and discipline is what has enabled our victory against foreign tyranny time and again.
In a direct swipe at Trump, Spencer said: Unfortunately it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the commander-in- chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline.
Trump responded on Twitter, saying he was not happy with the way Gallaghers trial was handed by the navy: He was treated very badly but, despite this was completely exonerated on all major charges, he said, acknowledging that he restored the Navy Seals rank.
The president then linked Spencers exit to contracting procedures that were not addressed to my satisfaction. He said the US ambassador to Norway, Ken Braithwaite, would be nominated to replace him.
Spencer had struggled to navigate the Gallagher case. On Saturday he denied a New York Times report which said he and Rear Admiral Collin Green, the commander of the Navy Seals, had threatened to resign.
On Sunday it was widely reported that the White House had confirmed it would not stop disciplinary proceedings against Gallagher.
After Trump intervened to order the navy to restore Gallaghers pay and rank, the navy told Gallagher five fellow commandos would meet on 2 December for a disciplinary proceeding which would recommend whether he was fit to remain a Seal. Three officers who supervised Gallagher were also reported to be facing review.
Trump reacted angrily, tweeting: The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallaghers Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!
Gallaghers attorneys alleged navy officials were pushing to strip Gallaghers Seal designation in retaliation for Trump reinstating his rank. Gallagher reportedly submitted a complaint, accusing Rear Adm Green of insubordination for defying the presidents actions.
On Saturday, amid continuing controversy, Spencer said he did not view a presidential tweet as a formal order.
I need a formal order to act, Spencer reportedly said at a security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Saturday. I dont interpret [tweets] as a formal order.
Appearing on the presidents favourite Fox News show, Gallagher doubled down on his allegation that navy officials were retaliating against him.
They could have taken my Trident at any time they wanted, he said. Now theyre trying to take it after the president restored my rank.
Gallagher also said he wanted to retire on 30 November with all the honors that Ive earned, get back to my family.
Neither Gallaghers lawyer nor the navy responded to requests for comment.
Trump has supported other service members implicated in wrongdoing. On the day he restored Gallaghers rank, he also pardoned two US army soldiers.
The president has repeatedly bemoaned the fate of US service members accused or convicted of wrongdoing on the battlefield.
Some of these soldiers are people that have fought hard and long, he said in May. You know, we teach them how to be great fighters, and then when they fight sometimes they get really treated very unfairly.