Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was dismissed because he broke the chain of command by trying to make a secret deal with the White House over Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher and his firing was not about the controversial fighter.
Esper told reporters at the Pentagon Monday that he and Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley were "flabbergasted" to learn that Spencer attempted to broker a deal to allow the embattled SEAL to retire with his rank and his SEAL Trident Pin as long as President Donald Trump refrains from interfering in the matter.
"Contrary to the narrative that some want to put forward in the media, the dismissal is not about Eddie Gallagher," Esper said. "It's about Secretary Spencer and the chain of command."
Gallagher was court-martialed but acquitted in July of war crimes charges that included murdering a teenage Islamic State prisoner, shooting civilians and threatening superiors. However, the chief of special operations was sentenced to four months confinement and loss of rank for posing for a photo with the IS fighter's dead body.
Trump has repeatedly involved himself in Gallagher's case, often expressing support for the embattled SEAL. In March, Trump said he had Gallagher relocated from a military brig to a less restrictive location and most recently, he restored his rank.
Esper, reading prepared remarks, said the reason behind Esper's dismissal on Sunday was simple: he broke a number of basic rules including that the chain of command must be followed, that once a position is agreed to it must be maintained, that if one does not like the decision they may resign and not to discuss sensitive internal deliberations.
The president as commander and chief, he said, has constitutional rights and powers, which he is free to exercise, and he and Milley agreed to allow the situation concerning Gallagher to "play out."
Spencer's proposal to the White House was contrary to that agreement.
"Chairman Milley and I were completely caught off-guard by this information and realized that it had undermined everything we had been discussing with the president. It had broken the rules that I mentioned earlier."
Spencer said in an interview with CBS Evening News Monday night that he would accept responsibility for brokering the deal without telling Esper but said Esper was "completely informed" of it because his chief of staff was briefed on the matter.
Trump told reporters before a meeting with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov that they had contemplated firing Spencer "for a long time."
"That didn't just happen," he said.
Trump called Gallagher "a great fighter" and he has received numerous messages of thanks since he restored his rank earlier this month and dismissed charges against a Green Beret and pardoned a former Army officer.
"We're going to protect our warfighters," he said.
Following Trump's pardons, the American Civil Liberties Union chastised the president, calling it an abuse of presidential powers that circumvents military law.
"With this utterly shameful use of presidential power, Trump has sent a clear message of disrespect for law, morality, the military justice system and those in the military justice system and those in the military who abide by the laws of war," ACLU National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi said in a statement.