In commenting on the ouster of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, President Donald Trump said Monday that he will put America’s troops ahead of those at the top.
Spencer’s departure was part of the chain of events surrounding Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who had been accused of war crimes for allegedly killing an unarmed Iraqi teenager.
Gallagher was convicted of a lesser charge that involved posing with the dead body.
As a result, there was an internal Navy effort that could have potentially stripped Gallagher of his trident pin, which denotes SEAL status.
Last week, Trump said he would not allow that to take place.
Amid the internal armed forces maneuverings over Gallagher’s case, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he asked Spencer to resign after “losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor” in the Gallagher case, according to CBS News.
Spencer opposed giving Gallagher SEAL status.
“I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took,” he wrote in his resignation letter, saying that the Constitution and the Uniform Code of Military Justice “are the shields that set us apart, and the beacons that protect us all.”
Spencer said he had “strived to ensure our proceedings are fair, transparent and consistent.”
On Monday, Trump was asked about Spencer’s departure during a news conference in the Oval Office.
“I’ve been — gotten — a lot of people have — a lot of warfighters and people in the military have thanked us very much. It’s been — it’s about time. They had one young man in jail for six years. He had many years to go. And a lot of people think he shouldn’t have been there. And I gave him a pardon.”
Trump appeared to be citing Army First Lt. Clint Lorance, one of those who he pardoned, according to Yahoo News.
In 2013, Lorance had been sentenced to 20 years in prison for his actions in Afghanistan.
“With Eddie Gallagher — you know that story very well — they wanted to take his pin away, and I said, ‘No, you’re not going to take it away.’ He was a great fighter. He was the — one of the ultimate fighters. Tough guy. These are not weak people. These are tough people,” Trump said.
Trump reiterated that his bottom line was to protect those fighting for America.
“And we’re going to protect our warfighters,” Trump said. “And I’ve been given a lot thank-yous, including we just had some very great Special Forces people come to the White House, and they brought Conan. But they were here for themselves also. I wanted to see them. I wanted to meet them. They gave us a rundown on what happened with al-Baghdadi. And they were incredible.”
Trump said members of the military understand his loyalty to them.
“But they were very thankful. Somebody has their back, and it’s called the ‘President of the U.S.’ OK? We’ve got their back,” he said.
Trump was then asked whether the combination of what took place with Spencer and comments about Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified as part of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, could be taken as disparaging members of the armed forces.
“No, I think what I’m doing is sticking up for our armed forces,” Trump replied.
“And there’s never been a president that’s going to stick up for them and has, like I have, including the fact that we spent two and a half trillion dollars on rebuilding our armed forces.”
Trump then made it clear he had issues with the military system of justice due to the case of former Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was given a dishonorable discharge but no prison time after leaving his unit in Afghanistan in 2009.
That sentence was handed down in 2017.
“And some very unfair things were happening. You let Sgt. Bergdahl go,” Trump said. “But Sgt. Bergdahl — we just lost another man who went after — you know he died last week. He went after — from — he was paralyzed from just about the neck down, and he died last week, going after Sgt. Bergdahl, trying to find Sgt. Bergdahl.”
Trump appeared to be referencing Army Master Sgt. Mark Allen, who died in October, 10 years after being shot in the head while searching for Bergdahl in the aftermath of Bergdahl’s departure from his post, according to Fox News.
“So when you have a system that allows Sgt. Bergdahl to go, and you probably had five to six people killed — nobody even knows the number, because he left — and he gets a slap on the wrist, if that; and then you have a system where these warriors get put in jail for 25 years — I’m going to stick for our warrior. I will stick up for the warriors,” Trump said.
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