WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered top Navy officials to rescind medals awarded to the prosecutors who unsuccessfully tried Navy SEAL team leader Eddie Gallagher for murder.
Trump, who has previously sided with Gallagher, slammed the prosecutors for “giving immunity in a totally incompetent fashion” in the course of the case and for having “difficulty with respect to information that may have been obtained from opposing lawyers.” The President said the Navy lawyers had been “ridiculously given a Navy Achievement Medal.”
“I have directed the Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer & Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson to immediately withdraw and rescind the awards,” Trump tweeted.
The Secretary of the Navy is pulling the medals awarded to the Navy prosecution team, a Navy official told CNN. The official said it is within Spencer’s authority to rescind the awards.
The President’s criticisms appeared to stem from prosecutors’ decision to give immunity to a key witness in the case who testified that he — not Gallagher — had killed the ISIS captive, as well as the former lead prosecutor’s improper use of email software in emails to defense lawyers. That prosecutor was removed from the case.
Trump’s order marked a rare and highly unusual intervention by a US President in the awarding of such commendations.
The Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal is typically awarded to personnel for accomplishments that do not rise to the level of the more prestigious Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, according to John Kirby, a CNN diplomatic and military analyst.
“I can’t remember a time when a president involved himself in an award decision at this low a level,” Kirby, a retired rear admiral, said.
The award “is typically given to junior officers and enlisted personnel and largely applies to noteworthy administrative and/or organizational accomplishments” and unit commanders typically hold discretion to award the medal.
Kirby argued that rescinding the award so publicly “unnecessarily demoralizes and demeans the men and women who received those medals, as well as the superior officers who saw fit to award them.
“Once again, he risks further politicizing the military,” Kirby added.
Gallagher was found not guilty earlier in July of murdering a captive ISIS fighter and attempting to murder Iraqi civilians. A jury acquitted him of nearly all charges, but found him guilty of posing for photos with the captive’s body.
Gallagher became a cause celebre in some conservative circles and his trial soon drew Trump’s attention, with the commander in chief ordering that Gallagher be moved to “less restrictive confinement” while awaiting trial. Trump then cheered the not-guilty verdict, tweeting “congratulations” to Gallagher and his family.
“Glad I could help!” the President tweeted.