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Former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer Says Trump’s Involvement in SEAL Case Sends Bad Message

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Former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who was fired for allegedly attempting to make a behind-the-scenes deal with President Trump in the case of SEAL Edward Gallagher, says President Donald Trump is sending a bad message to troops by getting involved.

In an interview with CBS news after being fired Monday evening, Spencer said Trump’s insistence on maintaining Gallagher’s rank as a Navy SEAL tells troops that they “can get away with it,” if they commit a crime. “We have to have good order and discipline, it’s the backbone of what we do,” he said.

Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday that he had to protect his war fighters. “A lot of war fighters and people in the military have thanked us very much,” he said during a briefing with the Prime Minister of Bulgaria. “It’s about time… [Gallagher] was a great fighter. He was one of the ultimate fighters.”

Spencer added be believes Trump doesn’t fully understand the definition of a war fighter. “A war fighter is a profession of arms,” Spencer told CBS’s David Martin outside the Pentagon. “And a profession of arms has standards.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Monday that he fired Spencer after Spencer secretly attempted to make a deal with the White House to allow Gallagher to retire from the Navy with his trident, a pin that symbolizes his rank as a Navy SEAL, so long as Trump agreed not to interfere.

Gallagher was found not guilty by a jury this summer after being accused of multiple war crimes, including murdering a captured ISIS fighter and shooting at civilians. But the jury did find him guilty of posing for a photo with the corpse of the ISIS fighter. Now he is at the center of a back-and-forth between Navy officials and Trump, who has intervened on multiple occasions to prevent the Navy from demoting Gallagher and removing his SEAL title.

Spencer said he decided to approach the White House with the deal “in order to preserve the resiliency of the naval institution,” he told CBS. “I had to step up and do something when it came to the Gallagher case.”

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Write to Jasmine Aguilera at jasmine.aguilera@time.com