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Navy secretary says he will not step down over Navy SEAL disciplinary proceedings

U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer downplayed reports that he and the commander of the Navy Seals said they would resign or be fired if President Trump issued a written order to halt hearings that could remove Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher from the elite military unit. David Philipps, a New York Times reporter who helped break the story, joins Hari Sreenivasan with more.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The secretary of the Navy told Newshour today he is not going to resign even if president trump issues a written order in a case against Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher. There were multiple news reports today quoting unnamed officials that navy secretary Richard Spencer and Rear Adm. Collin Green, who commands the SEALs, said they would resign or be fired if the president follows up a recent tweet with a formal order. Joining me now is David Phillips, a reporter for the New York Times who is covering the Gallagher case. So, first of all, for people who haven't been following what the ins-and-outs have been with Mr. Gallagher, where is he in the process of remaining a SEAL or not?

  • David Phillips:

    This has been a real sort of whiplash back-and-forth case, where he was convicted of a crime, but then the sentence was lessened by the secretary of the Navy. A short time later, the president removed the sentence completely, and then the Navy said, well, now we're gonna take his SEAL Trident away. And the Trident is a pin that each of them wear that denotes their membership in the SEALs. So for them, it's essentially like being cast out of the tribe.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    OK. So how unusual is it for someone this far up the chain of command, that the Secretary of the Navy, you don't get higher than that in the Navy, and the person who commands all the SEALs to take this kind of position? And what are they saying? Are they saying that, look, if you put something in writing, that challenges our authority? Is that what is at stake here?

  • David Phillips:

    Well, let me answer the first question. How unusual is this for a president to get involved at a retail level of army personnel? Experts and historians that I've talked to could not think of another example. And the understanding that the military has had with the president for centuries is: 'Yes, you are in control. You control strategy, politics, when to go to war, the big stuff, and we run the machinery that makes that happen.' So this is really a departure from that. OK.

    Now, the second question is, well, what happens when an admiral or a secretary of the Navy disagree with the president? And, I think the answer is, we don't know because we haven't seen this very much and we're watching it play out in real time. Now, the president absolutely has legal authority to tell the admiral what to do and to decide who is a SEAL and who isn't. The question is, what happens if the admiral who really believes that the right thing to do is get this convicted criminal out of the SEALs, what happens if he refuses? Will the president relieve him? Will he resign? I don't think we know. And the secretary in his comments has certainly, you know, tried to tamp things down, but left room for the fact that that both he and Admiral Greene, the commander of the SEALs, could be gone soon.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right, David Phillips of The New York Times, a lot more that's going to be coming in this story, joining us via Skype from Colorado tonight. Thanks so much.

  • David Phillips:

    Yeah. Thank you.

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