The secretary of the US navy resigned on Sunday following a demand from the Pentagon chief, the casualty of a stand-off with president Donald Trump over a Navy Seal accused of war crimes.
Richard Spencer had attempted to negotiate a deal with the White House following attempts by Mr Trump to prevent the navy expelling Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher from the elite Navy Seals over allegations of misconduct.
In his resignation letter on Sunday, Mr Spencer said: “I no longer share the same understanding with the commander-in-chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline.”
“I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to defend the constitution of the United States.”
Mr Trump said Kenneth Braithwaite, the US ambassador to Norway, would be nominated as his replacement.
Jonathan Hoffman, a spokesman for the defence department, said Mark Esper, the defence secretary, had asked for Mr Spencer’s resignation after having lost “trust and confidence” in the navy’s top civilian “regarding his lack of candour over conversations with the White House” involving Mr Gallagher’s case.
Mr Gallagher was accused of war crimes on a 2017 deployment to Iraq, including first-degree murder of a captive Isis fighter and attempted murder of civilians. A court martial acquitted him in July this year of all but one charge: posing with the corpse of an Isis captive. His case has become a cause célèbre among some conservatives.
As part of his sentence, Mr Gallagher was demoted but Mr Trump restored his rank earlier this month, to the ire of US military officials.
Earlier this week, the Navy notified Mr Gallagher that he would face a naval review board to determine whether he should maintain his Seal status.
But Mr Trump intervened again on Thursday, saying the Navy would not take away Mr Gallagher’s Trident pin, a symbol of his Seal qualifications.
“This case was handled very badly from the beginning,” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter. “Get back to business!”
On Sunday morning, Mr Gallagher appeared on Fox News, saying the navy’s handling of his case was “all about ego and retaliation”, adding: “This has nothing to do with good order and discipline.”
Mr Hoffman said on Sunday evening that Mr Esper had learnt that Mr Spencer had circumvented him and Mark Milley, the highest-ranking officer in the US military, and privately proposed to the White House that Mr Gallagher would be allowed to retire with his Trident pin if Mr Trump stopped interfering in the case.
“I am deeply troubled by this conduct shown by a senior [defence department] official,” Mr Esper said. “Unfortunately, as a result I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position.”
Mr Hoffman added that “given the events of the last few days”, Mr Esper had directed that Mr Gallagher retain his Trident pin, and would meet Thomas Modley, the acting navy secretary, and Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, on Monday.