By Phil Stewart
The decision defuses, at least for now, a potential clash between President Donald Trump and top U.S. Navy officials planning to convene a panel to decide if Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher should remain a SEAL, or be stripped of the trident pin denoting membership in the group.
Trump had said in a tweet on Thursday he would not let the Navy strip Gallagher of the pin.
Gallagher, 40, was demoted in rank and pay grade after being convicted by a military jury in July of illegally posing for pictures with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter. However, Trump ordered the Navy to restore his status earlier this month.
Gallagher had been charged, and acquitted, of more serious offenses, including murder.
In an appearance on Fox News Channel on Sunday, Gallagher indicated that he hoped to retire on Nov. 30th, “without the board” convening to decide whether he can continue to be a SEAL, considered among the most elite of U.S. fighting forces.
When Navy officials subsequently said they were launching a separate peer review process to consider whether Gallagher was fit to remain a SEAL, Trump balked.
“The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin,” Trump said on Twitter.
The comment raised concerns about whether Trump was undercutting the authority of Navy commanders.
U.S. Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said on Friday that Gallagher’s continued membership in the SEALS should be decided by a board of his peers because “the process matters for good order and discipline.”
Trump, without commenting on Gallagher’s possible expulsion from the SEALS or the decision to let the process move forward, on Sunday promoted Gallagher’s Fox News interview in a tweet, and added “have no fear, all will end well for everyone!” (Reporting by Phil Stewart; Writing by Howard Schneider Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)