President Donald Trump ordered the Pentagon not to remove a Navy SEAL at the center of a high-profile war crimes case from the elite commando unit, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said Monday.
Esper’s confirmation of the order from Trump is the latest turn in an extraordinary series of events that pitted the president against his senior military leadership over the fate of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, the SEAL who was convicted of posing for photographs with the body of a teenage Islamic State captive in American custody.
The Navy wanted to oust Chief Gallagher from the commando unit. Instead, it was the Navy secretary, Richard V. Spencer, who was fired on Sunday. Esper accused Spencer of not telling him that he was negotiating a separate deal with the White House, which differed from what Mr. Spencer was saying publicly and to senior Defense Department leadership.
On Monday, Esper indicated that the military would follow Trump’s wishes. “I spoke with the president on Sunday,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. “He gave me the order that Eddie Gallagher will retain his Trident pin.” The pin designates membership in the elite unit.
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This was the second time Trump had made known his wishes that Chief Gallagher remain a Navy SEAL — the first was last Thursday, via Twitter. But Navy officials said over the weekend that they did not consider tweets to be orders and announced they were moving ahead with disciplinary hearings that could oust Chief Gallagher from the commando unit.
Those hearings will not be happening now, Defense Department officials indicated.