Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer speaks to sailors aboard the USS Gabrielle Giffords.
Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer speaks to sailors aboard the USS Gabrielle Giffords. Photo by Chris Stone

Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper on Sunday fired Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer over “lack of candor” in the handling of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher’s case.

Gallagher was acquitted by a military court in San Diego of charges of shooting civilians and murdering a captured Islamic State fighter, but was convicted of the lesser crime of posing for photos with the dead fighter’s body and was demoted.

President Trump reversed the demotion on Nov. 15, but the Navy still planned a formal review of whether Gallagher could keep his SEAL status. Then the President tweeted Thursday that he could keep his “SEAL Trident” pin.

According to a Defense Department statement, Esper asked for Spencer’s resignation after learning of a private proposal to Trump — contrary to Spencer’s public position — to restore Gallagher’s rank and allow him to retire with his Trident pin. Esper was not informed by Spencer of the private proposal.

“I am deeply troubled by this conduct shown by a senior DOD official,” said Esper. “Unfortunately, as a result I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position. I wish Richard well.”

The Defense Department said that Gallagher’s review would not go forward and “given the events of the last few days, Secretary Esper has directed that Gallagher retain his Trident pin.”

Following his resignation, Spencer, a former Marine aviator, sent a letter to Trump saying that he “cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Esper has proposed to the President that Ambassador Kenneth Braithwaite, current U.S. Ambassador to Norway and a retired Navy Rear Admiral, be considered as the next Secretary of the Navy.

Gallagher is now expected to retire from the Navy on Nov. 30 with full honors.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.