Margaret Valenti writes on the recent forced resignation of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer and the erosion of faith in U.S. intelligence services from the conservative Republican side of the government.
The recent firing of U.S. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer (not to be confused with U.S. neo-Nazi Richard Spencer who Theresa May banned from visiting the U.K.) over his handling of the case against Edward Gallagher, a Navy Seal accused of multiple war crimes. Gallagher stood accused of indiscriminately firing his weapon into crowds of non-combatants, violently assaulting and killing a prisoner of war, taking an unofficial picture with a casualty of war, and obstructing justice by threatening his fellow officers.
The court only found him guilty of wrongful posing for an unofficial picture with a casualty of war by taking a selfie with a dead ISIS prisoner. The only resulting punishment was his demotion on July 2nd and time served. President Trump overturned this decision and pardoned Gallagher. That is not the only case where the President intervened and undermined in military disciplinary actions which calls into question the chain of command.
What is clear is that the behavior seen here is a symptom of a larger issue. It is not just a Trump problem either, it is an issue that stems from a distrust by this administration and its followers of the U.S. intelligence community and a blatant disregard for the rules of conduct within the military. That kind of mistrust and conflict is deeply problematic.
Given his distrustful mindset, the President took the only action he felt comfortable with by asking a foreign leader to intervene and investigate a political opponent. The investigation of an opponent for political gain is amoral to begin with, at the level of the President it is an abuse of power to ask a U.S. intelligence agency to investigate an opponent. If these agencies are already conducting an investigation, the President could not involve himself or The White House in the matters that these agencies investigate, no matter how much he may want to.
If this administration did not have this false conviction about U.S. intelligence, he would simply accept the results of prior probes conducted, not direct them to open an investigation or insert himself or the White House in an ongoing investigation. For example, what did the agencies find out? There is no current credible evidence to suggest that Joe Biden acted with the interest of his son, Hunter Biden, in mind when he dealt with Ukraine during his Vice Presidency in the Obama administration. He was not involved in any corruption. So why does the President feel the need to dig any further?
Seeking out a foreign government to conduct a probe into wrongdoings by a U.S. citizen and former Vice President of the United States shows how desperate Trump and his team are. Their belief that the bipartisan intelligence and military community are out to get him and do not reflect his views has no basis in fact and his attempt to destroy their credibility threatens U.S. interests. Through these actions, Trump and his allies break cohesion and subvert decades-old policy and norms that seek to protect the President and the citizens of the United States.
Despite Spencer’s flip-flopping about how to handle the Gallagher case, in his resignation letter he writes that “the rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries . . . Unfortunately, it has become apparent in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me, in regard to the key principle of good order and discipline.” Opponents turn to the Trump White House’s disorder and anti-Constitutional values that prompted Spencer’s forced resignation by Defense Secretary Mark Esper. These values lead to the pardoning of those accused of war crimes despite the outcomes of their cases. According to reports, various advisors in the Pentagon do not approve of these pardons either.
To ask a Navy Secretary to resign simply because he did not meddle in a trial the way The White House wanted him is not fair. It is a military policy viewpoint that it is okay to disobey an order one believes to be illegal or immoral and resign rather than obey that order. What prompted Spencer’s current resignation and why he did not resign earlier if he did not agree with the White House’s view initially is unclear.
What is clear about the situation is that there are those in the U.S. government who are ignoring the advice and counsel of the bipartisan intelligence agencies and the military. Trump did this from the start of his presidency, catalyzed by the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election that culminated in the Mueller report. Before his presidency, there were those working actively to make sure that Trump did not become president, warning the country that his White House would bring about destruction to the rule of law and divide the country further. They were correct about the furthering of divide, certainly.
In turn, believing that these agencies work against him and do not align with his views, Trump did not and still does not trust them. The FBI compiled evidence about the President, his family, his friends, and his associates and did not clearly determine whether the President committed a crime. Some of this investigation led to arrests of those close to Trump and his allies, many of who worked for Trump and on his election campaign. To Trump, the U.S. intelligence agencies and the military at large are not effective organizations if they work against him and his interests.
He prides himself on being pro-military and hails the veterans and police of this country who fight and work domestically and internationally. However, his actions during his presidency suggest otherwise.
It’s Not Just The Military And The FBI
Not only has he consistently considered pardoning servicemembers in various branches of the military accused of war crimes and criticized the FBI for investigating his associates, he pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Joe Arpaio racially profiled Latino members of Maricopa County, Arizona based on the assumption that they were in the country illegally. Unlawful prison conditions, abuse, unlawful arrests, racially profiling, and the targeting of political opponents, among other things, were all allegations made about Joe Arpaio as a sheriff.
The court found Arpaio guilty for criminal contempt because, in the court’s view, he failed to enforce the ruling the court gave in a separate case against him that asked his office to cease and desist the policy of racial profiling. In the view of the U.S. Department of Justice, he oversaw some of the worst racial profiling in U.S. history. Donald Trump pardoned him on August 25th, 2017, about a month after the guilty verdict and Arpaio served no jail time.
Taking sides with a man accused of such actions and calling him a “patriot” subverts all the progress made since the Civil Rights Movements and fights against continuing that progress in order to end all types of discrimination. It gives other police officers and sheriffs a greenlight to racially profile the Latino populations in the U.S on the inaccurate premise that many are in the country illegally. This is essentially the directive coming straight from the office of the President.
It is clear the Trump White House and its supporters seek to undermine the FBI, the military, and the police, distinct types of services and service members that dedicate their lives to keeping the U.S. and its citizens safe from both foreign and domestic violence. What does the White House hope to gain from protecting and restoring the “honor” of men accused of war crimes and racial profiling? Why are they disregarding decades of progressive policy?
Undermining U.S. Intelligence Is Dangerous If You Work For The Government
The undermining of U.S. intelligence services, servicemembers, and the work they do in the U.S. and abroad creates more chaos and division. The White House and its allies, it seems, thrive off division, holding their heads up and saying everything is fine as the resistance (liberals) and counter-resistance (conservatives) movements scream louder for change that may never come. However, the undermining of domestic and international services and supporting members who break the law hurts both domestic and international relations.
By disregarding the law of the land, the White House undermines the institutions of the U.S., creating a lack of faith in the government. If the government allows soldiers to get away with war crimes abroad, that also reduces international faith and assurance in the U.S. internationally. It seems as if the “deep-state” that conservatives keep talking about more accurately describes their own subversion and erosion of law and order rather than the other way around. Clearly, the “deep state” is a cover for them to justify not trusting their colleagues and other institutions of the government.
It is not a smart idea to ever suggest that there are parts of the government that work to undermine a certain political party or individual because the government is objective — or, it should be objective. It does not always work that way, but there is little evidence to support the fact that government institutions work against conservative Republicans or anyone else, especially since a conservative Republican is the President. Trump and his allies have a lot of friends in the government, the impeachment hearings and investigations make that clear. There is no “deep state” conspiracy, nor anything else that would justify undermining U.S. intelligence agencies that risk their lives everyday protecting the country.
The White House and its allies want to bring the country back to the age of rampant racial profiling, the killing of unarmed civilians in the Middle East, and the glorification of acts of war like taking selfies with corpses. The job of the military, FBI, and police officers changes over time, but the forward motion of progress is crucial to developing a stronger nation. The U.S. sets the standards both domestically and internationally and it would be a shame if this country lowers its standards for the gain of one political party or one President.