WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Thursday that he will block possible military efforts to remove the Navy SEAL whose demotion over a war crimes charge he reversed last week.
"The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin," Trump tweeted. "This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!"
The Navy late Thursday issued a statement acknowledging the tweet in which Trump called for them to halt the review that could banish Gallagher from the SEALs, but indicating they are waiting on a formal order.
"The Navy follows the lawful orders of the president,” said the Navy’s top spokesman, Rear Adm. Charlie Brown. “We will do so in case of an order to stop the administrative review of (Special Operations Chief) Gallagher's professional qualification. We are aware of the President's tweet and we are awaiting further guidance."
Gallagher is one of the three defendants in war crimes cases in which Trump intervened last week, issuing pardons to two soldiers and restoring Gallagher's rank and pay.
Gallagher was accused of using a knife to murder a teenage Islamic State prisoner in Iraq and of killing other civilians. A military court found Gallagher not guilty of the most serious charges in July but convicted him of posing for a photo with the ISIS victim.
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The Navy has since said it plans to review Gallagher's status as Navy SEAL, a decision that would likely result in Gallagher being removed from the elite commando community – the development Trump has vowed to block.
The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2019
The Navy's statement echoes the military’s response to Trump’s July 2017 tweet in which he called for a ban on the service of transgender troops. The tweet was acknowledged but the Pentagon waited for written orders before taking action.
Since his acquittal, Gallagher has been a frequent critic of the Navy, particularly fellow SEALs who testified against him. He has described top SEAL commanders as "morons."
While intervening in the Gallagher case, Trump has not pardoned him or vacated his court-martial conviction. He has acted to prevent punishment of Gallagher.
Gallagher's is one of several military justice cases that have become major causes for conservative commentators who say the men were treated unfairly.
On Friday, Trump also pardoned Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who had been serving a 19-year sentence for ordering soldiers to fire on unarmed Afghan civilians, two of whom died. The president also granted a pardon to Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who was charged with killing a suspected bombmaker.
In July, Trump ordered the withdrawal of military awards for the Navy attorneys who prosecuted Gallagher, saying they did an unfair job.
Critics have hit Trump for intervening in the cases, saying he is undermining the military justice system.
"Trump's misuse of pardoning power does a real disservice to our troops,' tweeted Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., an Army veteran and top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
He added, "To quote @SenJohnMcCain: 'What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we confuse or encourage those who fight this war for us to forget that best sense of ourselves.'"
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump says he will block removal of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher