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Navy cancels remaining SEAL review boards after Trump intervention and Navy secretary’s firing

Navy SEAL Chief Edward R. Gallagher and his wife Andrea Gallagher leave the courthouse at the start of his second week on trial. (Andrew Dyer/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

Navy trident review boards for three of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher’s senior officers are canceled, the service announced Wednesday, ending a long-running war crimes probe that started with accusations against Gallagher and resulted in the firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer on Sunday.

In a statement, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the Navy might review the officers via other means.

“Given the unique circumstances of these three remaining cases, I have determined that any failures in conduct, performance, judgment or professionalism exhibited by these officers be addressed through other administrative measures as appropriate, such as letters of instruction or performance observations on their officer fitness reports,” Modly said.

Gallagher was convicted at a court-martial in July of appearing in a photo with a deceased ISIS fighter taken during his 2017 deployment to Iraq. He was acquitted of a murder charge in the death of the fighter and of other war crimes charges, including that he shot civilians. For his conviction, he was sentenced to four months’ confinement and had his rank reduced one pay grade.

On Nov. 15, Trump issued pardons in two unrelated cases of soldiers charged with war crimes and he reinstated Gallagher’s rank to chief, an action largely criticized by retired military leaders and defense experts.

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Gallagher and three of his senior officers — Lt. Jacob Portier, Lt. Thomas MacNeil and Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch — were set to undergo review boards for their alleged actions during and after the deployment. Of the three officers, only Portier was charged with any crimes, but those charges were dropped after Gallagher’s acquittal.

News that the Navy planned review boards last week kicked off a flurry of condemnation from Gallagher’s supporters in conservative media, who said the reviews were a challenge to President Donald Trump’s authority as commander in chief.

Trump tweeted last Thursday that Gallagher would keep his trident, but Navy leaders were slow to acknowledge the tweet as an order. On Saturday, reports emerged that Spencer and commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, Adm. Collin Green, had threatened to resign if the boards were not allowed to go forward. Both leaders denied the reports.

On Sunday Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired Spencer, saying the Navy secretary had attempted to fix Gallagher’s board to allow the SEAL to keep his pin in a backroom deal with the White House.

Late Monday the Navy announced Gallagher’s board had been canceled by Esper, who said Trump ordered that Gallagher be allowed to retire as a SEAL.

In his statement Wednesday, Modly said his decision to cancel the other reviews should not be seen as undermining Navy expectations of SEAL conduct.

“Navy uniformed leaders have my full confidence that they will continue to address challenging cultural issues within the Naval Special Warfare community,” Modly said. “We can, we must, and we will get this right.”

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© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.