Your Navy

Booted by Trump’s team, ex-Navy Secretary Spencer stumps for Democratic rival

Less than three months after getting pushed out by the Pentagon, President Donald Trump’s ex-Navy secretary stumped Friday for Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg in Norfolk.

“I am proud to endorse Mike Bloomberg for President of the United States," said Richard V. Spencer, according to a transcript of his remarks sent to Navy Times by the campaign. “I have the utmost confidence that Mike will faithfully execute his duty as commander in chief.

"He will preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and uphold the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Mike will honor the service and ensure the equal treatment of all women and men in uniform. He also will respect the advice of military advisers.”

Tossing verbal darts at Trump while standing in the shadow of the museum battleship Wisconsin, Spencer promised that Bloomberg — the billionaire former mayor of New York and a fierce advocate of stronger gun control laws — would restore “America’s standing in the world" and mend “relationships with our allies.”

Bloomberg, Spencer continued, “has the experience, integrity and self-discipline to lead our armed forces, unite our country, and rebuild America.”

Bloomberg returned the praise, lauding Spencer for his service, leadership and integrity and "for always honoring the oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, even in the face of tremendous pressure.

"I can’t think of a person I respect more for their character. You really are the definition of a great American and we all appreciate it."

What neither man mentioned in their flowery speeches was that Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper demanded Spencer’s resignation on Nov. 24 after discovering an alleged pattern of deception tied to a series of sham hearings rigged to yank the coveted tridents of several SEALs mired in war crimes allegations, especially the pin worn by Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher.

play_circle_filled Then-Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer addresses the crew of aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford through the ship's 1MC during a visit at sea on Oct. 27. A scandal has forced him out as Secretary of the Navy. (Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Angel Thuy Jaskuloski/Navy)
Spencer out as Navy secretary over SEAL trident scandal

The Pentagon has asked the White House to consider Kenneth Braithwaite, the current U.S. ambassador to Norway and a retired Navy rear admiral, as the next Secretary of the Navy.

Trump had intervened multiple times in Gallagher’s case, including restoring his chief’s anchors after he had been demoted to petty officer first class following his conviction for posing next to the corpse of a dead Islamic State detainee.

Esper believed that Spencer followed his guidance to let uniformed Navy officers and senior enlisted leaders handle the trident review panels. During a visit to the White House at the height of the controversy, however, he and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley discovered Spencer secretly tried to broker a wink-wink deal that would restore Gallagher’s trident after it was taken by the administrative board.

While Spencer’s alleged double-dealing with the White House appeared to call into question the real reason for the SEALs’ administrative hearings and larger problems involving the sorry state of the Navy’s criminal justice system during the ex-secretary’s tenure, he sought to paint a different picture of his departure.

In a resignation letter released after he exited the Pentagon, Spencer said he really quit over the “deadly serious business” of preserving good order and discipline in the Navy, a perspective he believed Trump didn’t share.

But Trump took to Twitter to gripe about Spencer’s inability to stop cost overruns and contracting problems in major procurement projects while also voicing his displeasure with the Navy’s handling of the Gallagher affair.

Although charged with murdering the prisoner of war, shooting at innocent civilians and other war crimes, a panel of his peers tossed the specifications against Gallagher during his summer court-martial trial, leaving only the photo accusation, a charge the SEAL never denied doing.

Gallagher’s case already had been dogged for months with allegations of misconduct by Navy prosecutors and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service under Spencer’s watch that included a warrantless spying program targeting defense attorneys and Navy Times.

Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher walks with his wife Andrea as they leave a military courtroom inside Naval Base San Diego on July 2. Acquitted of all but one charge at trial, Gallagher has voiced strong support for President Donald J. Trump. (Gregory Bull/AP)
Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher walks with his wife Andrea as they leave a military courtroom inside Naval Base San Diego on July 2. Acquitted of all but one charge at trial, Gallagher has voiced strong support for President Donald J. Trump. (Gregory Bull/AP)

Bloomberg’s campaign team asked Navy Times to interview Spencer on Friday but later canceled, saying in an email that he was “booked for the rest of today” but might be able to chat next week.

Questions submitted by Navy Times to the campaign by email weren’t answered but the staff sent Bloomberg’s speech and a list of endorsements the campaign received Friday from lawmakers with ties to the military.

They included U.S. Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y. — a former Army platoon leader wounded in Afghanistan — and Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., a former Navy helicopter pilot and Russian policy officer.

“I served in the Navy with members of our military community dedicated to making our country safer and stronger, and it’s clear we need the same level of commitment from our political leaders,” she said in an email forwarded by the campaign to Navy Times. “Mike Bloomberg embodies the integrity we need from leadership and I am proud to give my support to him today.

"His unwavering commitment to making our schools and streets safe from gun violence, investing in our region’s infrastructure, creating opportunities for our veterans, and protecting our environment is proof that Mike Bloomberg won’t back down from the many serious challenges we face as a country. Mike is a true public servant, and I’m confident he will move this country forward into a bright future.”

Navy veteran Mikie Sherrill greets voters during a candidate forum at the in New Jersey on Oct. 9, 2018. Sherrill became one of 17 new veteran candidates to win a congressional seat in the late 2018 midterm elections. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
Navy veteran Mikie Sherrill greets voters during a candidate forum at the in New Jersey on Oct. 9, 2018. Sherrill became one of 17 new veteran candidates to win a congressional seat in the late 2018 midterm elections. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Bloomberg echoed her glowing endorsement during his Friday visit to Norfolk, where he pitched a plan designed to appeal to military veterans in Virginia, which will participate in the Super Tuesday primaries on March 3.

Largely bypassing the Iowa caucus and the upcoming New Hampshire primary, Bloomberg’s campaign has focused on Virginia, Texas, California and 11 other Super Tuesday states, reportedly saturating the airwaves with more than $300 million in TV ads.

“I won’t get into all of the details, but you can rest assured that our administration will help more veterans launch small businesses, our administration will connect veterans with good jobs and build on the skills and training that they have, and our administration will strengthen the VA to better serve those who need it," Bloomberg said.

“One of the things we’re also going to do is make sure that we help veterans build more wealth and successful careers after service, and strengthening healthcare, and mental healthcare, and reproductive healthcare, and affordable child care for veterans and service members."

As for how he’ll perform as the commander in chief, Bloomberg said it won’t be like several of his Democratic rivals who are legislators — such as Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Army Klobuchar —but rather as an “effective decision-maker" who has run large organizations, including the 300,000 municipal employees in New York.

“We all know the hardest decisions a president has to make are those that put Americans in harm’s way," Bloomberg said. “Those are decisions that must never be taken lightly – or without broad consultation with senior military and civilian national security advisers.”

He promised to install a smart and nimble national security team that will sift through "data and intelligence, thinking through second- and third-order consequences, and, ultimately, making decisions and carrying them out.

“Great leaders know how to separate what is important from what is not. They know how to define priorities and keep the focus on them and not be distracted or diverted from things that really don’t matter.“

Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a campaign rally at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday. (Tom Gralish/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a campaign rally at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday. (Tom Gralish/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Bloomberg pointed to Trump as a “cult leader” who “acts on impulse, rather than reason," a man who “thinks he alone has the answers” who’s saddled with an ego that “does not leave room for the concept of team."

“He seems to view our international allies the same way — not as partners, but as lackeys who must bend to his will, or face the consequences," Bloomberg continued. “International partnerships are crucial to America’s ability to achieve strategic goals — for our security, and our economy, and in every other important area.

Bloomberg criticized the president’s decision to “abandon our Kurdish allies” in Syria, a message the former mayor said “could not be clearer: You can’t count on America anymore.”

He called the late Sen. John McCain, a Navy hero and Republican who represented Arizona, a “good friend" who was insulted by Trump, a president who “can’t abide strong, independent thinkers” and listens more to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin than his own director of National Intelligence.

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