Insubordination: President Trump Sends Navy Secretary Packing
President Trump was left with no choice this week but to send the Navy a clear and uncompromising reminder: I’m the commander-in-chief, and it’s my way or the highway. Some in the Navy proved over the course of the last week that they were in desperate need of that reminder, none moreso than Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, who has been trying to thwart the president’s will as it pertains to Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher. On Sunday, Spencer got his walking papers from Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
“Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer’s services have been terminated by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper,” Trump tweeted. “I thank Richard for his service & commitment.”
This situation came to a head last week when President Trump bucked Navy authorities by restoring Gallagher to his rank after he was penalized for posing with a jihadist’s corpse. Miffed at this rebuke, Navy officials began planning a review of Gallagher’s service which would have likely concluded with stripping the SEAL of his Trident and the SEAL membership it symbolizes.
The day after news broke of that planned review, President Trump tweeted: “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!”
Under ideal circumstances, that would have been the end of it. But the Navy is apparently populated with a great many stubborn men, including Secretary Spencer. Officials told the press that they did not consider Trump’s tweet a standing order from the commander-in-chief, and word circulated that Spencer was threatening to resign if the president continued to interfere with military justice.
In private, however, Spencer was reportedly trying to work out a deal with the president, urging him to let the review of Gallagher go forward while assuring Trump that the SEAL would not lose his Trident. A show trial, in other words.
Trump may or may not have been on board with that scheme, but when he heard that Spencer was threatening to resign, he decided to make the decision for him. Secretary Esper was likewise troubled by the disparity between Spencer’s public and private positions on the case.
“Unfortunately, as a result I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position,” Esper said. “I wish Richard well.”
Ordinarily, we’d say it’s impossible to imagine the Navy going through with the review of Eddie Gallagher under these circumstances, but then, we were pretty damn surprised to see them initiate that review in the first place. If this isn’t insubordination, we don’t know what else to call it. Time will tell if Secretary Spencer’s fate befalls any other mutinous officers.