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Navy’s top admiral steps in, assumes authority in Navy SEAL war crimes cases

Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, during a visit to Naval Base San Diego.
Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, on a visit to San Diego Naval Base.
(K.C. Alfred)

Navy says the dropped charges were not directed by President Trump, orders review of entire JAG Corps.

Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, has dismissed all charges against Navy SEAL Lt. Jacob X. Portier, who was set to face trial in September on charges stemming from the high-profile murder case of Special Operator 1st Class Edward R. Gallagher.

“Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson today dismissed all charges in the case of Lt. Jacob Portier,” a Navy statement said Thursday. “Richardson took this action in the best interest of justice and the Navy.”

Cmdr. Jereal Dorsey, a Navy spokesman, said the decision came from Richardson, not from President Trump, who yesterday rescinded medals awarded to prosecutors in the Gallagher case.

Richardson also ordered a full review of the Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

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“Recent events indicate a need to review the leadership and performance of the (JAG) Corps,” Richardson said in a memo.

Richardson said the review should address training and professional development, with an “evaluation of the JAG Corps officer career progression and community values for promotion selection and detailing,” according to the memo.

Richardson has also stripped the authority to prosecute Petty Officer 1st Class Corey Scott away from Region Legal Service Office Southwest, which previously prosecuted Gallagher and was set to prosecute Portier. Navy authorities had floated the possibility of prosecuting Scott for perjury after he testified that he, not Gallagher, killed a wounded ISIS fighter in Iraq.

Portier was charged with a number of offenses related to those Gallagher fought during his two-and-a-half-week trial. Portier was charged with conduct unbecoming an officer, for allegedly conducting Gallagher’s reenlistment ceremony near a dead enemy combatant — the same fighter Gallagher was found not guilty of murdering.

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Portier also was charged with dereliction of duty because, prosecutors say, he failed to supervise Gallagher that day. He also was charged with failure to report war crimes allegations against Gallagher and with obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying evidence.

Portier denied all charges and pleaded not guilty. He was set to be in court Friday for a motions hearing.

Navy Region Southwest spokesman Brian O’Rourke said he could not comment on the case.

“The news came as a surprise,” he said.

Gallagher, 40, had been charged with premeditated murder in connection with the 2017 death of a captive teenage ISIS fighter he was treating for injuries. He also faced charges related to allegations that he shot at civilians and tried to intimidate witnesses.

He was acquitted July 2 of all those charges but convicted of one, a charge for posing with the fighter’s corpse. He was reduced a rank to E-6.

Portier’s attorney Jeremiah Sullivan did not immediately return a request for comment.

Dyer writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Updates:
6:14 PM, Aug. 01, 2019: This story was updated with comments from Admiral Richardson’s spokeswoman and Jeremiah Sullivan, Lt. Jacob Portier’s civilian defense attorney.
7:04 PM, Aug. 01, 2019: This story was updated with additional information and new comments from Admiral Richardson’s spokeswoman denying he has taken over as convening authority in the Gallagher case.
6:44 PM, Aug. 01, 2019: This story was updated with news that authority over the case of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher has also been shifted to Admiral Richardson.

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