The secretary of the United States Navy has said he does not consider a Twitter post by President Donald Trump an order and would need a formal order to stop a review of a sailor who could lose his status as a member of its elite SEAL commando unit.
Trump on Thursday tweeted that the Navy should “get back to business” rather than convene a board to determine whether Navy Special Warfare Operator Edward Gallagher – who had been accused of war crimes but was found guilty only of a lesser offence – should retain his qualification as a Navy SEAL.
Referring to Trump’s tweet, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said on Saturday: “I don’t interpret them as a formal order.”
He added: “I need a formal order to act.”
Trump had insisted in his tweet that the Navy “will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin”, inserting himself into an ongoing legal review of the sailor’s ability to hold onto the pin that designates him a SEAL.
The Navy on Wednesday had notified Gallagher that he will face a review early next month to determine if he should remain on the elite force.
Multiple US news outlets reported in recent days that Spencer had threatened to resign over the issue, a claim he sharply denied.
“Contrary to popular belief, I am still here. I did not threaten to resign,” Spencer said, speaking at a forum in Halifax, Canada, while also acknoledging that he serves at the pleasure of the president.
“The president the United States is the commander in chief. He’s involved in every aspect of government and he can make decisions and give orders as appropriate,” he said.
Gallagher had been accused in the stabbing death of a wounded captive fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) armed group in Iraq in 2017, attempted murder of other civilians and obstruction of justice.
In July, he was acquitted of charges related to those accusations, but was convicted of a lesser charge: posing with the slain fighter’s body in a group picture with other SEALs.
As a result, he was demoted one rank, from chief petty officer to petty officer first class.
On November 15, Trump reversed the demotion handed down to the 40 year old under his conviction.
Gallagher’s lawyers have accused the Navy of trying to remove the SEAL designation in retaliation for Trump’s decision last week to restore Gallagher’s rank.
Gallagher filed a complaint with the inspector general accusing a rear admiral of insubordination for defying Trump’s actions. Rear Admiral Collin Green is the Naval Special Warfare commander.
Under the review procedure, a five-person board will convene on December 2 behind closed doors.
It will include one SEAL officer and four senior enlisted SEALs, according to two US officials cited by The Associated Press news agency.
Trump’s initial order in Gallagher only referred to restoring his rank, but it did not explicitly pardon the SEAL for any wrongdoing.
Green also notified three SEAL officers who oversaw Gallagher during the deployment – Lieutenant Commander Robert Breisch, Lieutenant Jacob Portier and Lieutenant Thomas MacNeil – that they are also being reviewed, according to the officials.
Removing their Trident pins means they would no longer be SEALs but could remain in the Navy. The Navy has revoked 154 Trident pins since 2011.