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Esper Demands Resignation of Navy Secretary Over SEAL Case



Mr. Trump was having none of it. On Thursday, he wrote on Twitter that “the Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin.” He added: “This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”

The president’s tweet further infuriated top Navy and SEALs leaders, and Mr. Spencer threatened to resign, Defense Department officials said. He told a number of Pentagon officials that he was willing to go to the mat over this, and it was under that belief that Mr. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then went to Mr. Trump to ask him to allow the disciplinary process to go through.

A senior Defense Department official said Mr. Spencer was also pursuing the side deal with the White House, unbeknown to either Mr. Esper or General Milley. Mr. Spencer, the official said, told White House officials that if Mr. Trump allowed the disciplinary process to go forward, Mr. Spencer would see to it that Chief Gallagher was not ousted from the Navy SEALs in the end.

After arguing Mr. Spencer’s public case to Mr. Trump, Mr. Esper was furious to discover that the Navy secretary had tried to make a side deal with the White House without informing him, the official said.

“Bananas, completely bananas,” Chief Gallagher’s lawyer, Timothy Parlatore, said when asked about the resignation Sunday. “Whoever cooked up this drug deal, they didn’t let me in on it. But if the secretary of the Navy did lie to the secretary of defense, he had no choice but to ask him to resign.”

A Navy Special Warfare official in San Diego said SEAL commanders were caught off guard by the announcement and were “floored,” saying if there was a back-channel deal between the secretary of the Navy and the White House, the SEAL commander, Rear Adm. Collin Green, and his staff were not aware of it.

The official said the SEALs and the secretary of the Navy’s staff had been in constant contact throughout the decision to submit Chief Gallagher to a Trident review board, and had briefed the decision to the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and gotten no pushback.

As of Friday, Navy Special Warfare had been told it was cleared to proceed, the official said.

Helene Cooper reported from Washington, Maggie Haberman from New York and Dave Philipps from Colorado Springs.

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