Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story headlined, Navy Is Said to Proceed With Disciplinary Plans Against Edward Gallagher. It is little short of extraordinary as it actually documents what can only be called an open mutiny on the part of some admirals, and their civilian leaders, to the ability of President Trump to act as Commander in Chief.
The secretary of the Navy and the admiral who leads the SEALs have threatened to resign or be fired if plans to expel a commando from the elite unit in a war crimes case are halted by President Trump, administration officials said Saturday.
The high-level pushback to Mr. Trump’s unambiguous assertion on Twitter this past week that the commando, Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, should remain in the unit was an extraordinary development in what was already an extraordinary case, one with few precedents in the history of presidential relations with the American military.
One argument that officials said the Pentagon is relying on is the assumption that a tweet does not constitute a formal presidential order. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conveyed to the president that if he followed up that tweet with a direct order, there would be huge consequences: Mr. Trump would lose Mr. Spencer and Admiral Green, further infuriate his top military leadership and do untold damage to decades of military justice doctrine, according to administration officials.
This is a brief outline of events. Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher was charged with the following crimes:
Article 80 Attempted Murder
Article 118 Premeditated Murder
Article 128 Aggravated Assault with a Dangerous Weapon x2 on non-combatants
Article 134 Firearm, discharging-willfully, under such circumstances as to endanger human life at non-combatants
Article 134 Obstructing Justice (three counts)
Article 134 Wrongfully pose for an unofficial picture with a human casualty
Article 134 Wrongfully complete reenlistment ceremony next to a human casualty
Article 134 Wrongfully Operate a drone over a human casualty
Article 112a Wrongful Use of a Controlled Substance – Tramadol Hydrochloride
Article 112a Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance – Sustanon-250
What the charge sheet looks like to me is an attempt to attack Gallagher’s overall character by putting two instances of wrongful use of a controlled substance (an analgesic and synthetic testosterone) as well as a laundry list of allegations that the prosecution knew could not be substantiated before the jury to paint a picture of Gallagher as an out-of-control rogue operator.
Gallagher was convicted on exactly one count: posing with a casualty (for the record, I think criminalizing bullsh** disciplinary infractions like this is a sign of a chain of command that is totally corrupt and trying to cover its ass because these kinds of photos are legion.) Gallagher was ordered to be reduced one grade, but because the court martial panel adjudicated a sentence of confinement, this meant Gallagher was automatically reduced to E-1. The court-martial convening authority set aside that part of the conviction but upheld Gallagher’s reduction in rank. Last week, President Trump commuted Gallagher’s sentence and ordered him restored in rank.
Then the fun started.
On Tuesday, Gallagher was informed that he would have to appear before a disciplinary board which would decide to revoke his SEAL Trident for misconduct. In the dock along with him would be two SEAL officers. It’s worth noting that in the image that has circulated that purports to be of Gallagher and the dead insurgent, he’s part of a group shot of about a dozen SEALs and somehow none of the rest are at risk of disciplinary action.
On Wednesday, President Trump ordered the Navy to cease its proceedings against Gallagher.
On Friday, we learned that Gallagher’s lawyer had filed an IG complaint against the admiral who seems to have a hard-on for Chief Gallagher, Collin Green, for making disparaging comments to his subordinates about President Trump.
The New York Times article covers a lot of ground but let’s clear away the undergrowth.
The President has the complete and unquestioned authority to order the Navy to stop administrative hearings against Gallagher. The cause of the hearing is a crime for which he has been pardoned. To pursue administrative sanctions fairly screams insubordination.
As my favorite boss EVER used to say, “Guys, I will never require you to agree with a single thing I tell you to do, but I will demand that you carry out my orders faithfully and as though they were your own.” That is the position where Green and everyone above him is and where they’ve already failed in a very basic tenet of military discipline. President Trump has every bit the right to reach down inside Navy Special Warfare Command and tell them to knock the crap off as Admiral Green had the right to reach several echelons down the chain of command and direct specific SEALs be made an example of for a practice that seems to have been endemic within the SEALs.
By making their disagreement with the President’s orders public, they have carried out a direct, frontal assault on the good order and discipline of the Armed Forces.
The idea that Trump’s tweet was not a “direct order” and that only a “written” order would be obeyed is a grotesque misstatement of what constitutes an order. Unlike in the movies, you never have to say “I’m giving you a direct order.” There is literally no other kind of order. It is either an order or its not.
I was a bit skeptical of the story from a lot of aspects but most of all because literally no one else was covering it:
extraordinary situation… this story deserves far more attention that it's getting https://t.co/MQGE7q65QJ
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) November 23, 2019
But now AP is reporting that President Trump has folded like a cheap suit:
The Navy has been notified that the White House will not intervene to stop a disciplinary proceeding that could cost a SEAL his position in the elite unit, a senior Navy official said Sunday.
Although President Donald Trump had tweeted on Thursday that he would not let the Navy remove Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher from the SEALs, the Navy was given White House guidance on Friday that it can proceed as planned, the Navy official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
Should the AP story be true, President Trump has committed a huge blunder. Regardless of the rightness of him entering into the fight, the fact remains that he did so and he did so in a very public way. If the Secretary of the Navy and any number of Navy admirals have said, as the NY Times piece claims, that they will do as they damn well please and the President be damned, then they are literally in a state of mutiny. I’m not throwing around the word mutiny like some throw about “treason.” I’m speaking of literal, black-letter mutiny:
(a) Any person subject to this chapter who—(1) with intent to usurp or override lawful military authority, refuses, in concert with any other person, to obey orders or otherwise do his duty or creates any violence or disturbance is guilty of mutiny;(2) with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of lawful civil authority, creates, in concert with any other person, revolt, violence, or other disturbance against that authority is guilty of sedition;(3) fails to do his utmost to prevent and suppress a mutiny or sedition being committed in his presence, or fails to take all reasonable means to inform his superior commissioned officer or commanding officer of a mutiny or sedition which he knows or has reason to believe is taking place, is guilty of a failure to suppress or report a mutiny or sedition.
As a commander, you never give an order that you aren’t willing to do some very ugly things to ensure is carried out. You can’t, ever, tolerate subordinates just blowing off an order because that will reach epidemic proportions in a very short period of time. When confronted with the overt act of mutiny, President Trump could either act decisively or waffle. By backing down he sets a precedent that is dangerous, perhaps fatally so, to civilian control of the Armed Forces. He says that it is completely legitimate for the chain of command in a military service to not only refuse to obey his order, but it is also fine to talk smack to the press about it and to publicly humiliate him. This is not a good look.
If you aren’t familiar with the background–and, unlike some commenters, have a vague desire to become familiar with the story before flinging opinions about—here are some links that bring us up to today:
READ: BREAKING: SECNAV Denies Resignation Threat
READ: BREAKING: U.S. Navy Will Take CPO Gallagher’s SEAL Trident Despite POTUS Twitter “Order”
READ: Admiral Who Tried to Boot Eddie Gallagher From the SEALs May Be Investigated for Talking Smack About President Trump
READ: President Trump Orders Navy To Revoke Medals Given To Eddie Gallagher’s Prosecutors
READ: President Trump Restores Chief Petty Officer Gallagher to his Pre-Court Martial Rank
READ: Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher Acquitted of War Crimes Charges by Court Martial
READ: Judge Tosses Military Prosecutor in Trial of Navy SEAL
READ: Judicial Fragging in the Military (VIP content)
READ: Trump Issues Pardons in Three Highly Controversial War Crimes Court Martial Cases