His pay grade restored by President Donald J. Trump on Friday, Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher has filed an inspector general’s complaint against the Navy’s top SEAL, accusing him of uttering contemptuous statements about the commander in chief.
In the works for four months, the move came hours before a Wednesday morning meeting with Naval Special Warfare superiors in California, who are expected to inform Gallagher that Naval Special Warfare commander Rear Adm. Collin Green has convened a Trident Review Board on Dec. 2 to take the coveted SEAL qualification pin away from the special operator.
Green seems to have mustered the support of his uniformed chain of command to administratively punish Gallagher, 40, even if it’s perceived as defiant to the White House.
“Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, supports his commanders in executing their roles, to include Rear Adm. Green," said Gilday’s spokesman, Cmdr. Nate Christensen, in an email to Navy Times.
Cmdr. Sarah Higgins, spokesperson for Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, echoed that he also “supports his commanders in executing their roles, to include Rear Adm. Green.”
Declining to comment on the IG complaint filed against her command, Naval Special Warfare spokesperson Capt. Tamara Lawrence called allegations that Green uttered contemptuous words about the president “patently false.”
Based on the documents provided to Navy Times, it remains unclear what, if any, comments were made by Green about the president. But a potential showdown between Trump and Green, his fellow admirals and their civilian overseer, Spencer, could set a bad precedent in civil-military affairs, Gallagher’s legal team said.
“The president has spoken on the punishment of Eddie Gallagher," said the SEAL’s civilian attorney, Timothy Parlatore, a former surface warfare officer. "A two-star admiral should not be stepping in to substitute the judgment of his commander in chief. "This is a terrible precedent to send and the commander in chief should take swift and decisive action against Rear Adm. Green.
"As for those in his chain of command who appear to be supporting Green, there needs to be a wholesale change in leadership. If Navy leadership can’t accept the commander in chief’s guidance, then they all should leave.
“There’s a long tradition in the military. You don’t rebel. You resign.”
Gallagher apparently won’t be the only SEAL facing administrative sanctions from the Coronado, California-based Green.
Lt. Jacob X. “Jake” Portier, the former officer in charge of Gallagher’s Alpha Platoon, SEAL Team 7, and their team’s former commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, also have been informed they will meet with their superiors on Wednesday, attorneys told Navy Times.
At issue is their alleged mishandling of war crimes allegations tied to Alpha Platoon’s 2017 deployment to Iraq. Although a military panel of his peers acquitted Gallagher on a string of war crimes charges, including the murder of an Islamic State prisoner of war, he was found guilty of posing for a photo with the dead detainee’s body alongside a dozen other servicemen who weren’t punished.
The former chief of naval operations, Adm. John Richardson, withdrew charges against Portier on Aug. 1, less than a month after Gallagher’s case collapsed in court.
“Rear Adm. Green is undermining the office of the president of the United States,” Portier’s defense attorney, Jeremiah J. Sullivan III, told Navy Times. "Rear Adm. Green should be the first one to place his trident on the table and resign before he is fired.
“Flag officers cannot challenge the president. It is an act of insubordination and a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
Sullivan also represents ex-SEAL Team 7 leader Cmdr. Edward J. Mason and Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Hugh C. Spangler, who were fired by Green on Sept. 6. They claim that they were relieved of duty in an effort by an embattled Green to save his career after the Gallagher case and other reports of problems at Naval Special Warfare roiled the Pentagon, Capitol Hill and the White House.
IG investigators are probing that now.
Both the Gallagher and Portier cases were dogged by allegations of military corruption, reaching into the Navy Yard and Naval Special Warfare and triggering sanctions against the prosecution by judge Capt. Aaron Rugh.
Part of Rugh’s punishment included booting Cmdr. Christopher Czaplak, the lead prosecutor in both cases, for his role in a warrantless surveillance program cooked up with Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents to track emails sent by defense attorneys and Navy Times.
They were accused of manipulating witness statements to NCIS agents; using immunity grants and a bogus “target letter” in a crude attempt to keep Breisch and other potential 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.
The IG complaint filed Tuesday evening lays out these and other alleged violations of Gallagher’s constitutional rights before pointing to the actions of Green and Rear Adm. Charles Brown, the Chief of Naval Information.
Drafted by attorneys Parlatore and Marc Mukasey, Gallagher’s IG complaint terms a message sent by Brown in the wake of the president’s announcement to restore SEAL’s anchors as an “undeniably contemptuous and snarky tweet."
“As the Commander in Chief, the President has the authority to restore Special Warfare Operator First Class Gallagher to the pay grade of E-7. We acknowledge his order and are implementing it,” Brown wrote.
“This tweet was universally received as being a passive aggressive statement of disagreement, but grudging acceptance,” according to the complaint to IG.
“If any subordinate officer passed on orders from their superior in this fashion, he would be immediately fired – ‘As the commander of this ship, the CO has the authority to order us to do maintenance on our equipment. We acknowledge his order and are implementing it.’”
Brown disputed that, telling Navy Times in an email that it “was not a political statement, and the language it used was consistent with the White House statement.”
Sailors and their retired shipmates online seemed to have read it differently, remarking on how Brown slurred Gallagher as a mere E-7, not a chief, with “shade” also falling on the president.
White House officials referred Navy Times to the Pentagon for a statement about the growing controversy, but officials there did not return messages.
“They violated Eddie’s constitutional rights over and over again and we still beat the heck out of them in the courtroom,” Mukasey told Navy Times late Tuesday. “This is their sore loser’s revenge.”
There’s something even “more sinister" that occurred in Coronado, the complaint alleges. It urges investigators to probe whether in a Monday morning staff meeting, Green “made clear his contempt of the President and disagreement with the President’s decision, before declaring that he intended to remove SOC Gallagher’s trident anyway.”
To Gallagher and his legal team, the commander in chief’s intent could not have been made more clearly to Green.
“Before the prosecution of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher, he had been selected for promotion to Senior Chief, awarded a Bronze Star with a 'V' for valor, and assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor,” read the White House release explaining why Trump intervened in Gallagher’s case.
“Though ultimately acquitted on all of the most serious charges, he was stripped of these honors as he awaited his trial and its outcome. Given his service to our Nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified.”
The IG complaint stated it was "incomprehensible to understand how, given the Commander in Chief’s clear guidance that he felt the punishment was too severe for such a minor offense, how (Green) thinks it is appropriate to countermand this and increase the punishment.
"Moreover, no flag officer should ever be speaking contemptuously of the Commander in Chief in front of his subordinates,” according to the complaint.
Along with Green, the complaint also takes aim at ex-Naval Special Warfare Group 1 commodore Capt. Matthew D. Rosenbloom, who allegedly “used his authority to attempt to influence the outcome of this case by intentionally hampering SOC Gallagher’s ability to assist in his own defense, to include tainting witnesses and threatening SOC Gallagher’s supporters.”
Although a military jury acquitted Gallagher, Green “seems unable to respect the constitutional principles that they have sworn to uphold in their vendetta against SOC Gallagher,” the IG complaint alleged.
“It seems like the obvious question here is, ‘Why?’ Why is (Naval Special Warfare) obsessed with punishing SOC Gallagher even though he has already suffered unjust punishment? Why is NSW seeking retribution against SOC Gallagher when it should be looking inward at its own organization? The answer is simple: It is easier to cast out SOC Gallagher and blame POTUS for his intervention than it is to correct an internal leadership problem,” the complaint stated.
You can read the full IG complaint here.
Navy Times editor’s note: This story has been updated to show that the Trident Review Board for Gallagher has been scheduled for Dec. 2, according to his attorney.
Prine came to Navy Times after stints at the San Diego Union-Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Combat Infantryman Badge.