The latest hero of the Never Trumpers — the ex-secretary of the Navy, Richard V. Spencer — is out with an op-ed column on what he learned from getting fired. The answer, it seems, is not much. His column, which appears in the Washington Post, turns out to be an exercise in constitutional misconception, self-righteousness, whinging, bellyaching about his superiors, and tin-eared politicking.
Mr. Spencer, a Marine, was fired Sunday for misleading Secretary of Defense Esper over the case of Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher. The Navy had accused Gallagher of murdering a war prisoner — and of more than a dozen serious crimes. It turns out, though, that Gallagher wasn’t guilty of murder. A court martial acquitted him of that and all other charges against him save for posing with a corpse.
One would think that all those acquittals would have given Mr. Spencer, as secretary of the Navy, at least some sense of humility. Yet it seems that the only one who gained an early sense that something was wrong with the case against Gallagher was the commander-in-chief. Mr. Trump twice got on the blower with Mr. Spencer to tell him to ease up on the pre-trial conditions in which the accused was being held.
Incredibly, Mr. Spencer boasts that he “pushed back.” He blames that on the presiding judge in the case, who felt it was important that Gallagher be harshly confined before the trial. Hard to see why that would be, given that Gallagher turned out to be not guilty. We wouldn’t suggest that a secretary should be a yes-man. Yet Mr. Spencer seems to be suggesting the president was “interfering.”
The idea that a president is “interfering” when he’s exercising a constitutionally granted power is one of the constitutional misconceptions under which Mr. Spencer seemed to be laboring. He discloses that he actually sent the president “a note asking him not to get involved in these questions” — meaning not to exercise his constitutional authority. What kind of individual would send such a note?
“The next day,” Mr. Spencer writes, “White House Counsel Pat Cipollone called me and said the president would remain involved.” Good for Mr. Cipollone, we say. The counsel called again, Mr. Spencer adds, with word that the president would be ordering him to restore to Gallagher the rank of chief from which he’d been demoted on the one charge — posing with a corpse — on which he was actually guilty.
To Mr. Spencer, this is “shocking and unprecedented” — and “a reminder that the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.” The ex-secretary seems to have no idea that the Constitution itself is part of the uniform rules that govern Mr. Trump — or any other president.
One of the claims Mr. Spencer makes against the president is that he “involved” himself in the Gallagher case “partly” because of the “media.” Why should that be such a scandal in the newspaper whose very slogan is “democracy dies in darkness”? Our own reaction is, good for the president that he’s alert to the press. Its check and balance role seems to have worked in this instance.
Mr. Spencer also “tried,” as he puts it, “to find a way that would prevent the president from further involvement” in the matter of whether Gallagher would be able to keep his treasured Trident pin. “Why?” he writes. Well, the Naval Special Warfare community “owns the Trident pin, not the secretary of the Navy, not the defense secretary, not even the president.” He was promptly disabused of that selfish notion.
At one point Mr. Spencer writes that the reason American forces are “effective overseas” is “not because we have the best equipment but because we are professionals.” We share, like all Americans, pride in our modern military. Just for the record, though, the wars we won most convincingly — World Wars One and Two — we did so with a bunch of draftees who were rushed to the front from our farms and factories.
Image: Acting Defense Secretary Richard V. Spencer, United States Army Photo via Wikipedia.