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Navy Secretary Pushed Out Over SEAL Case Controversy


And now we have some breaking news. Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer has been asked to leave his post due to his handling of the case of a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes. For the latest, we're joined now by Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks for joining us.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, how are you?

MARTIN: So first, could you just give us a brief recap of this war crimes case that prompted all of this?

BOWMAN: Well, this concerns a case of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. He was acquitted of murder, but he was convicted of a minor charge of posing with a corpse of a dead teenage ISIS fighter. President Trump - he was lowered in rank, reduced in rank, by the Navy over that. President Trump ordered that he be returned to his rank. And that set in motion the Navy deciding to move forward and convene a board that would remove his trident pin. He's a Navy SEAL, and a coveted pin is worn by Navy SEALs. So that is the backdrop of all this.

And tonight, I'm told by a senior defense official familiar with the case that Navy Secretary Richard Spencer wrote a letter to the president tonight saying, quote, "I hereby acknowledge my termination as United States Secretary of the Navy to be effective immediately." Notice he did not say resignation. He also said the president, quote, "deserves a secretary of the Navy who is aligned with his views for the future of the force." And that reminds me of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who said something similar when he also - when he left his post as defense secretary.

MARTIN: So this obviously - Secretary of Defense Mark Esper played a role here. What do you know about what happened today? And what did the secretary of defense say about all this?

BOWMAN: Well, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper contacted the Navy secretary, Richard Spencer, and basically said, you know, it's time for you to go. And again, Navy Secretary Spencer said, OK, I'll write a letter to the president. It was as simple as that.

MARTIN: So what about - could you just talk a bit more about the White House's involvement in all this?

BOWMAN: Well, again, President Trump intervened in this case. He cleared two Army officers of wrongdoing of - one was convicted of killing unarmed militants and was serving time in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Another's trial was slated for February. And they were both cleared. And then Eddie Gallagher was a Navy SEAL. He was the third case the president involved himself in, as he can as commander in chief, and ordered the Navy to restore him to the rank. And I'm told again by a senior defense official familiar with this that once President Trump intervened in the case, the Navy decided to go forward. They thought it was important to have this process to go forward with this review board to determine whether or not Eddie Gallagher, the SEAL, should continue with his trident pin.


BOWMAN: That was slated to convene next week.

MARTIN: So I'm seeing a statement here from the secretary - from the Defense Department spokesman saying that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has asked for the resignation of the secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, after losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor over conversations with the White House involving the handling of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. I get the sense that there's another shoe to drop here, Tom, perhaps - very briefly?

BOWMAN: Well, we don't know yet if there's another shoe to drop. One question is the top Navy SEAL out in California, Adm. Collin Green, he's supposed - he was the one that convened this review board. And we'll see what his actions are as a result of this latest news that the Navy Secretary Richard Spencer has left his job, saying he's been terminated.

MARTIN: All right, that's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.