A Navy SEAL accused of war crimes first pitted the president against the Defense Department. Then he divided the Defense Department against itself. The irony is that even the official who tried to please Donald Trump found that was no guarantee he could keep his job.
Trump repeatedly tried to intervene in the case of Eddie Gallagher, a decorated special operator accused of war crimes. Defense officials tried to get him to back off and let the military handle it. Then Trump gave an order, and that’s where they split.
Mark Esper, the secretary of defense, followed that order. Richard Spencer, who until yesterday was the secretary of the Navy, by his account refused and was fired. In a letter made public after his firing, Spencer suggested that under a president who disdains the rule of law, the only true honor is in insubordination.
“The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries,” Spencer wrote as he acknowledged his termination. “Unfortunately it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me.”
The letter echoed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s resignation missive, in which he declared that the president deserved a Pentagon chief whose views better aligned with his own. But, in one sense, it was even harsher, because Mattis resigned over a policy difference—namely, Trump’s attempted withdrawal from Syria and his disregard for alliances. Spencer, after being fired, suggested that his disagreement with Trump concerned the rule of law itself, and that the president had little use for his insistence on good order and discipline.