By Ken StoneEmbattled Rep. Duncan Hunter said Monday that when President Trump tweets, the military should consider it a direct order.
Commenting on the Trump-ordered firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, the Alpine Republican said:
“In this case, President Trump is the Secretary of the Navy’s boss. He’s everybody in the military’s boss. So when he says something, whether he tweets it or not, or says it in a certain way or not, just because it’s not written in the perfect bureaucratic order or way that we’re used to from other people, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t mean what he says.”
Hunter further said that if “you’re going to say the commander-in-chief’s tweet is not an order — knowing that’s how the president works — then you’re just asking to be relieved as soon as possible…. And that’s what happened.”
When Trump said Gallagher would retire with his SEAL trident, “with all the honors he’s earned in the Navy, that sends a pretty clear message that no retaliatory act by the Navy against Chief Gallagher is going to be accepted by the president,” Hunter said.
Despite White House leaks and hearsay, he said, “what the president says and what the president does is all that matters.”
Hunter made the comments outside downtown federal court after a 5-minute court hearing in his criminal case.
At the request of the defense and prosecution, Hunter’s effort to keep former District Attorney Paul Pfingst as his trial lawyer was delayed until 10 a.m. Dec. 3.
Story continues below
Judge Thomas Whelan also noted that he once worked with Pfingst in the county District Attorney’s Office in the 1980s — but not as Pfingst’s supervisor.
“I’m surprised you remember,” Pfingst said to laughter in the third-floor courtroom.
Whelan said he wouldn’t recuse himself from the case — but just wanted to cross T’s and dot I’s about his former relationship.
“We crossed paths maybe twice,” Pfingst said outside the court. “I haven’t seen Judge Whelan in 30 years. We were laughing about it at sidebar. He was a big wig and I was [not].”
Hunter also criticized Navy officials for their plans to possibly remove Navy SEAL Gallagher against the wishes of Trump.
Gallagher was acquitted by a military jury this summer of stabbing a wounded teenage ISIS fighter to death in Mosul, Iraq, as well as other charges of attempting to kill unarmed Iraqi civilians.
Hunter did not comment regarding his ongoing campaign fraud case, in which he’s accused of misusing $250,000 in campaign funds for personal use.
Hunter was indicted along with his wife on five dozen criminal counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy and falsification of records. Margaret Hunter, 44, has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and awaits sentencing.
Gallagher was demoted in rank based on the sole conviction he received in the court martial for posing with the ISIS fighter’s corpse in a photograph. (Hunter has acknowledged he did the same while in the Marines.)
On Nov. 15, Trump restored Gallagher’s rank, but Navy officials said days later that a “trident review” would go forward regarding whether Gallagher would remain a member of the SEALs.
Hunter has supported Gallagher throughout his court martial and news of the trident review, and said: “The military will never admit that it’s wrong on anything even when it obviously is,” calling the Gallagher case an example of “prosecutorial and bureaucratic abuse from within the military system.”
Hunter, who told reporters he’s been in contact with Gallagher (and that his wife was supporting his 50th District re-election campaign), said: “What the Navy was going to do was purely punitive, just to slap (Gallagher) in the face one last time before he retired.”
Hunter also criticized the Navy for ignoring Trump’s authority as commander in chief.
“When the president says that Eddie Gallagher will retire with his trident with all the honors that he’s earned in the Navy, that sends a pretty clear message that no retaliatory act by the Navy against Chief Gallagher is going to be accepted by the president,” Hunter said.
On Sunday, Trump tweeted that he was “not pleased with the way Gallagher’s trial was handled by the Navy, and said Gallagher would retire with his Trident Pin.
DOD spokesman Jonathan Hoffman wrote that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper asked for Spencer’s resignation after Spencer privately proposed to the White House to restore Gallagher’s rank, despite his opposing public stance on the issue.
In a resignation letter dated Sunday, Spencer didn’t reference Gallagher specifically, but said issues with Trump played a role.
“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,” he wrote. “I 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. The President deserves and should expect a Secretary of the Navy who is aligned with his vision for the future of our force generation and sustainment.”
Asked about the “good order and discipline” assertion in Spencer’s letter, Hunter said: “That’s the military’s answer to all of these cases where you had a bunch of war heroes unjustly accused and in many cases unjustly imprisoned.”
He said the Uniform Code of Military Justice doesn’t work in cases like those of Gallagher, Matt Goldstein and Clint Lorance — pardoned amid war crimes accusations or convictions
“That does not undermine good order and discipline,” Hunter told a phalanx of cameras. “These are special cases having to do with war crimes. These aren’t DUIs or murders or rape or sexual harassment. These are war crimes cases that I think our war-fighter deserve a special look and a special take.”
He said Trump was outside the bureaucratic bubble and can “look at these cases objectively.”
Gallagher got “special and underserved retaliatory action” by the Navy, Hunter said.
“Otherwise, this would have never come about,” he said. “This should have been handled originally within administrative action, and that would have been it. I think you have military leaders who like to make political points, and that’s what happened in the Gallagher case.”
In Trump’s Sunday tweet regarding the Gallagher case, he briefly thanked Spencer “for his service & commitment.”
The Navy SEAL review board is slated to hear Gallagher’s case on Dec. 2.
Updated at 3:50 p.m. Nov. 25, 2019
— City News Service contributed to this report.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: