SAN DIEGO -- President Donald Trump's interventions in a San Diego-based Navy SEAL's war crimes case disrupted the military justice system for months, culminating Sunday in the firing of the Navy secretary as controversy boiled over at the top of military leadership.
The extraordinary interventions by the most powerful man in the country essentially made Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who was convicted of posing with the body of a deceased Islamic State fighter, untouchable, observers said.
Richard Spencer, who was fired as Navy secretary, wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post that it's irregular for even top military leaders to get involved in personnel matters like the Gallagher case.
"Normally, military justice works best when senior leadership stays far away," he wrote. "A system that prevents command influence is what separates our armed forces from others."
Gallagher was charged with killing a wounded teenage Islamic State fighter during a deployment to Iraq in 2017. Several of his Navy SEAL teammates reported their platoon chief for that death and for shooting Iraqi civilians -- charges for which Gallagher was acquitted in July.
He was convicted of appearing in photos with the corpse of the fighter and was sentenced to four months in the brig and a reduction in rank of one pay grade. Chief of naval operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, affirmed that sentence in October.
At key points in Gallagher's case, the president proved he had his back.
"President Trump involved himself in the case almost from the start," Spencer wrote, adding that Trump called him twice before Gallagher's trial began. Trump ordered Gallagher released from confinement in March.
Defense Department officials found themselves pushing against a narrative the president had gleaned from Fox News, that the accused was a hero the Navy was persecuting, according to a report in The Post.
"I came to believe that Trump's interest in the case stemmed partly from the way the defendant's lawyers and others had worked to keep it front and center in the media," Spencer wrote in his opinion piece.