U.S. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer denied a New York Times report Saturday that he had threatened to resign or be fired if President Trump intervenes to stop an administrative review of a SEAL at the center of a botched war crimes court-martial.
Spencer delivered the denial from the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada, where he is a keynote speaker: “Contrary to popular belief, I am still here. I did not threaten to resign. We are here to talk about external threats, and Eddie Gallagher is not one of them.” The denial was also posted to his official Twitter account.
The comment bolstered other denials from Navy officials who told the San Diego Union-Tribune on Saturday that neither Spencer nor Rear Adm. Collin Green had threatened to resign, contrary to what the newspaper had reported hours earlier.
The report was based on comments from unnamed officials in the Trump administration, the New York Times said.
Earlier this week, Green, the commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, announced he would initiate “trident reviews” of four SEALs involved in a war crimes probe into the actions of SEAL Team 7’s Alpha Platoon during a 2017 deployment to Iraq. A trident review essentially determines whether a SEAL remains in the elite community.
The reviews were announced just days after Trump restored Navy SEAL Edward R. Gallagher to the rank of chief petty officer, overturning the sentence of the military jury in Gallagher’s San Diego court-martial this summer.
The decision to hold reviews was criticized as an affront to Trump’s authority as commander in chief by Gallagher’s media surrogates on Fox News and by his attorneys, Timothy Parlatore and Marc Mukasey.
On Thursday, Trump said in a tweet that the Navy will not be taking Gallagher’s SEAL trident pin, the gold insignia of the Navy SEALs.
Navy officials offered conflicting accounts on whether the reviews were suspended or proceeding.
The New York Times reported that the Navy may not consider Trump’s tweet an official order.
On Saturday, Spencer said he would need a formal order to stop a review of Gallagher, who could lose his trident pin and status as a Navy SEAL, according to the Associated Press.
“I need a formal order to act,” he said, referring to the tweet. “I don’t interpret them as a formal order.”
On Friday, the secretary told Reuters at the Halifax International Security Forum that he supports the hearing into whether Gallagher will be allowed to remain a SEAL, saying he believes the process matters for “good order and discipline.”
Parlatore, citing misconduct by a Navy lawyer and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service during Gallagher’s court-martial, told the Union-Tribune on Saturday that good order and discipline is no reason to disregard a “clear directive” from the commander in chief.
“The secretary should not be supporting [the review boards] when he has failed to ensure good order and discipline is applied across the board by holding [Navy] prosecutors and NCIS agents accountable for their criminal conduct in this case,” Parlatore said. “Additionally, [Spencer] should not be making statements like these on foreign soil.”
Rear Adm. Charlie Brown, the Navy’s chief spokesman, said Saturday that Spencer’s comments in Canada were in line with current White House guidance.
Parlatore said he thought Green should resign or be fired.
“At this point,” Parlatore said in a text message, “Green has demonstrated such a lack of leadership through his fixation on Eddie Gallagher and defiance of the president that he should resign or be fired.”
Gallagher was charged with killing a wounded Islamic State captive and shooting civilians during his time in Iraq in 2017. At the end of his court-martial, a jury acquitted him of the most serious allegations and convicted him of posing for photos with the body of the captive fighter.
A military jury sentenced Gallagher to four months’ confinement, which he served before trial, and reduced his rank to petty officer 1st class, or E-6.
Trump has intervened several times in the case, and Gallagher’s family members and advocates have made dozens of appearances on Fox News shows since the SEAL was charged in January.
Trump ordered Gallagher released from the Miramar brig in March, and tweeted his congratulations upon his acquittal of the most serious charges against him in July.