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Donald Trump's Secretary of the Navy, Richard V. Spencer, resigned yesterday after being told to pack his bags by Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Spencer was officially forced out of his job because he tried to set up a secret deal to allow an accused war criminal to makes a semi-graceful exit from the Navy without first running it past Esper. But supporters of Spencer say the Navy secretary became the fall guy when he attempted to protect the military justice system from Trump's meddling. One thing's for sure: Donald Trump really doesn't give two shits about "justice" if it means American fighting men might get in trouble just for killing a bunch of foreigners whose lives don't matter anyway.

Spencer's resignation came about after Trump objected last week to the Navy proceeding with a disciplinary hearing for Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, the Navy SEAL who was accused by his own platoon of murdering an injured teenaged ISIS fighter who had been captured, and of randomly shooting at civilians in Iraq. Gallagher was acquitted of the killing at court martial, but was found guilty of posing for trophy shots with the prisoner's corpse, just as any red-blooded psychopath would. On November 15, Trump reversed the Navy's decision to reduce Gallagher in rank, and also pardoned two other accused or convicted war criminals, because he loves the Troops, especially the ones like Gallagher, who's on Fox News all the time.

When the Navy nonetheless insisted on holding a hearing to take away Gallagher's "Trident" pin -- his SEAL insignia -- Trump tweeted that the Navy would do no such thing, because as commander-in-chief, Trump Is The Law. This led to understandable concern among military brass, because while the military is definitely under the command of the "president," the military justice system is supposed to be sacrosanct, not subject to political whim, especially when it comes to individual cases.

The Washington Post reports that Esper forced Spencer to resign after Spencer

privately proposed to White House officials that he would ensure that Gallagher retired as a Navy SEAL, with his Trident insignia, if they did not interfere with a review board convened to determine his fitness to stay in the elite force.

According to a Pentagon spokesperson, Spencer had to go because he hadn't told Esper of the plan, and because the secret deal contradicted Spencer's public opposition to Trump's interference in the case. Shame on you, Richard Spencer, for going outside the chain of command and betraying your ethical commitments! But as Post columnist David Ignatius reports, the reality may be a bit more complicated. Sources told Ignatius that Spencer had been trying to find a face-saving way to keep Trump from directly ordering the Navy to drop its probe, while also getting Gallagher out of the service with the shiny gold pin that said he was still a SEAL, to keep Trump happy.

After that Trump tweet, Spencer cautioned acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney that he would not overturn the planned SEAL peer review of Gallagher without a direct presidential order; he privately told associates that if such an order came, he might resign rather than carry it out. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with the White House late Thursday to try to avert this collision.

Milley's de-escalation efforts initially appeared to be successful. A Pentagon official messaged me Friday morning: "Missiles back in their silos … for the time being." But the truce was short-lived. By Saturday, the White House was demanding to know whether Spencer had threatened to resign; the Navy secretary issued a statement denying that he had made any such public threat and continued to seek a deal that would protect the Navy from a direct showdown with Trump.

The proposed side deal, in this telling, was a "hold-your-nose solution," according to a "source close to Spencer." Instead, the whole thing fell apart and Spencer was forced out.

Oh, yes, and Gallagher happens to be represented by two former law partners of Rudy Giuliani, as Ignatius notes, "investigator Bernard Kerik, a former New York police commissioner, and Marc Mukasey, who represents Trump." Just in case there were any question about whose ass is loved by whom.

Spencer wrote Trump a good fuck-you letter on the way out at least:

In the letter, Spencer explains he can't keep serving a guy who thinks he can make up the law as he goes along:

As Secretary of the Navy, one the most important responsibilities I have to our people is to maintain good order and discipline throughout the ranks. I regard this as deadly serious business. The lives of our Sailors, Marines and civilian teammates quite literally depend on the professional execution of our many missions, and they also depend on the ongoing faith and support of the people we serve and the allies we serve alongside.

The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries. Good order and discipline is what has enabled our victory against foreign tyranny time and again [...] The Constitution, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, are the shields that set us apart, and the beacons that protect us all.

In a pointed echo of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis's Farewell to Arseholes last year, Spencer writes,

Unfortunately it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline. I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The President deserves and should expect a Secretary of the Navy who is aligned with his vision for the future[.]

Translation: It was a good ride, but I can't stand by this tinpot dictator, bye!

And as Ignatius notes, the really troubling thing is that it looks like Esper can. For all the talk of Spencer's supposedly underhanded double-dealing, the practical result here is that Gallagher will keep his SEAL status and his restoration in rank, and the military will go along with Trump's interference in war crimes trials.

It's a great day to be lawless!

[WaPo / NYT / WaPo / CNN]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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