President Donald J. Trump has decided to restore convicted SEAL Edward Gallagher’s pay grade to chief petty officer, overriding a decision last week by the Navy’s top admiral, both Navy Times and Fox News learned.
Although naval officials and Navy Times discussed Trump’s looming decision on Sunday, it was announced on the morning Fox and Friends show by network contributor Pete Hegseth, who said he spoke directly with the president about intervening in three war crimes cases.
A week before Veterans Day, Trump’s move clears the way to free Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who was convicted on a pair of murder charges for ordering his platoon to shoot and kill three Afghan men on a motorcycle in 2012 and is serving a 19-year sentence at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.
It also is poised to end the prosecution of Green Beret Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who is accused of executing a suspected Taliban bomb maker in Helmand Province nine years ago.
“This president recognizes the injustice of it,” Hegseth said during the broadcast. “You train someone to go fight and kill the enemy. Then they go kill the enemy the way someone doesn’t like, and then we put them in jail or we throw the book at them.”
On Tuesday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday decided to retain the spirit of a military jury’s recommended sentence for Gallagher, 40, letting stand the panel’s call to demote him but keeping him a petty officer first class and not the E-1 pay grade where Navy regulations would’ve automatically left him after more than two decades of service.
That same panel of his peers, mostly composed of Marine combat veterans, acquitted Gallagher on a string of war crimes charges during a trial that presented evidence of corruption inside the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Gallagher was convicted on the sole charge of posing for a snapshot with a dead detainee. A dozen service members, including a commissioned officer senior to Gallagher, were not indicted or apparently punished for a crime resolved in the past through mild administrative actions.
And it remained unclear if Naval Special Warfare truly had finished with Gallagher, at least administratively.
Navy Times had been tracking the fate of the highly decorated SEAL on Friday, after he’d been ordered to report to duty at Naval Base Coronado.
Rumors swirled throughout the base that senior officers were poised to unleash a series of sanctions on him, including sending him to a Trident Review Board to strip him of the SEAL insignia, whispers also overheard by Gallagher’s defense attorney, Timothy Parlatore.
At the close of business in California, however, no action had been taken by embattled Rear Adm. Colin Green and new rumors percolated out of headquarters that senior officials had stepped in to halt the proceedings.
“We didn’t reach out to the president, but we’re grateful that he’s taking this action,” Parlatore told Navy Times on Monday. “The idea that even after everything Green did to still go after Eddie’s trident, that’s not the action of a SEAL admiral. That’s the action of a petulant child. It’s a good thing the adults in the room are standing up.”
Parlatore said he had yet to speak to Gallagher because it was 4 a.m. in California when Hegseth announced the impending intervention by the president.
“In 3 ½ hours, I have the expectation that Green might still pull Eddie’s trident when he shows up for duty," Parlatore told Navy Times by telephone.
Late Sunday, Parlatore emailed Green’s staff a scathing letter addressed to the admiral, urging him to abandon “your fixation on harming Eddie Gallagher and his family.”
“He has already suffered indignities that vastly outweigh the severity of his alleged offenses. Continued unlawful attacks will serve only to undermines your ability to effectively lead the NSW community,” Parlatore wrote.
Pointing to interviews he conducted with a number of SEALs during his defense of Gallagher, Parlatore wrote that he continued to hear a common complaint that Green’s command “uses operators and then casts them away like garbage the moment they no longer satisfy your needs.”
In the wake of Gallagher’s acquittal, Green in August issued a four-page “back to basics” directive designed to shore up shoddy conduct, restore moral accountability and create better leaders.
Released to senior leaders and then obtained by Navy Times, Green’s guidance sought to return his SEAL and boat teams to standards expected of service members across the fleet, with a mandate for leaders to conduct “routine inspections of your units and strictly enforce all Navy grooming and uniform standards, including adherence to all Navy traditions, customs and ceremonies.”
But Parlatore’s letter warned Green that mandating haircuts, outlawing unit patches “are not the problems” plaguing Naval Special Warfare and instead directed Green’s attention to a high tempo of overseas operations “and a lack of proper support from failed leaders” and “scapegoating” Gallagher will only undermine “good order and discipline; men are losing respect and confidence in their leadership.”
Pentagon officials did not respond to requests by Navy Times for comment, except to refer all questions to the White House.
Fox’s announcement of Trump’s impending action isn’t the first time he’s intervened in Gallagher’s case.
On March 30, the president took to Twitter to announce that he ordered the Pentagon to release Gallagher from pretrial confinement in San Diego’s Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar.
“In honor of his past service to our Country, Navy Seal
#EddieGallagher will soon be moved to less restrictive confinement while he awaits his day in court," Trump tweeted. “Process should move quickly!”
And it did, with Navy officials immediately moving to spring Gallagher from the brig.
A day after the verdict in Gallagher’s court-martial case, Trump also tweeted congratulations to the SEAL, his wife Andrea, and his entire family.
“You have been through much together. Glad I could help!” the president wrote.
And the president still wasn’t done with a case plagued by allegations of prosecutorial and police misconduct.
Before Gallagher’s trial kicked off, Navy judge Capt. Aaron Rugh sanctioned prosecutors for violating the SEAL’s constitutional rights.
Part of his punishment included booting Cmdr. Christopher Czaplak, the lead prosecutor, for a warrantless surveillance program cooked up with NCIS agents to track emails sent by defense attorneys and Navy Times.
Agents and prosecutors also were accused of manipulating witness statements to NCIS agents; using immunity grants and a bogus “target letter” in a crude attempt to keep pro-Gallagher witnesses from testifying; illegally leaking documents to the media to taint the military jury pool; and then trying to cover it all up when they got caught.
After the Navy bestowed achievement medals on several prosecutors and their enlisted aides, Trump stepped in on July 31 to nix the decorations, lampooning them as “ridiculously given" awards.