Trump: Navy will not strip sailor acquitted of murder of SEAL status
By MISSY RYAN AND DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: November 21, 2019
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday pushed back on the military's plans to strip a service member accused of misconduct of his status as a Navy SEAL, days after the president intervened to roll back other disciplinary actions against him and two other service members accused of war crimes.
"The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher's Trident Pin," the president said in a tweet. "This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!"
The message followed reports that senior Navy officials had set in motion steps to remove the chief petty officer's SEAL Trident, which would effectively end his status as a member of the secretive, elite force. Earlier this year, a military court acquitted Gallagher of the majority of war crimes charges relating to the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq, including charges of murdering a militant captive, but he was convicted of a lesser charge of posing for a photo with the man's corpse.
Rear Adm. Collin Green, the senior officer who drafted the steps to remove Gallagher from the SEALs, oversees Naval Special Warfare Command. Green also sought to review whether three officers who oversaw Gallagher in Iraq also should be ejected from the SEALs. They are Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, Lt. Jacob Portier and Lt. Thomas MacNeil. It was not immediately clear whether Trump's directive applies to them as well.
A spokesperson for Green could not immediately be reached to comment Thursday morning.
Tim Parlatore, an attorney for Gallagher, said the last sentence of Trump's tweet indicates to him that the president wants Green to move on from intervening in the cases for each SEAL.
"This whole thing was a political show by a petulant child, and I think the president saw through that," Parlatore said of the admiral.
Rear Adm. Charles Brown, the Navy's top spokesman, said in a statement on Thursday night that the service is aware of the president's tweet and awaiting further guidance about what to do.
"The Navy follows the lawful orders of the President," the statement said. "We will do so in case of an order to stop the administrative review of... Gallagher's professional qualification."
A Navy official, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said the service coordinated with the White House before moving to review whether Gallagher and the other SEALs will keep their Tridents. Proceedings against all four men are on hold, the official said.
Gallagher's trial exposed wrongdoing on the part of other SEALs, including MacNeil drinking with junior sailors on deployment.
The Defense Department last week announced that Trump had authorized a reversal of a rank reduction for Gallagher and pardons for two soldiers also accused of war crimes, a move that defied advice from senior Pentagon leaders.
The intervention was hailed by supporters of the men but criticized by current and former military officers who cautioned that it could diminish the deterrent power of military justice and damage discipline in the ranks.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper was among the senior officials who made the case to Trump for letting the military justice system proceed uninterrupted. But the president appears to have concurred with advocates for the men affected by last week's decision who argued that troops undertaking dangerous missions deserve the nation's understanding.