As the military news site Task & Purpose reported Tuesday, members of the prosecution team were quietly presented with Navy Achievement Medals on July 10 for their work on the case. In tweets Wednesday, Trump said the decorations were “ridiculously given.”
“Not only did they lose the case,” Trump wrote on Twitter, “they had difficulty with respect to information that may have been obtained from opposing lawyers and for giving immunity in a totally incompetent fashion. I have directed the Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer & Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson to immediately withdraw and rescind the awards. I am very happy for Eddie Gallagher and his family!”
A Navy spokesman declined to address the matter and referred questions to the White House, which did not respond to requests for comment.
A Navy official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the topic’s sensitivity, said that Spencer has the authority to rescind awards and will do so in this case.
Trump’s directive is highly unusual. Achievement awards are issued to service members routinely as a means of recognizing what unit leaders deem exemplary performance by their subordinates. Unlike the military’s more prestigious awards, which can require extensive vetting and multiple layers of review by the most senior Defense Department officials, achievement medals can be approved by individual commands.
The only military decoration that requires a president’s direct endorsement is the military’s highest award, the Medal of Honor.
Nevertheless, the achievement awards puzzled some because Gallagher’s prosecution was widely seen as an embarrassment to the Navy. A judge had imposed sanctions on the lawyers for their handling of aspects of the case.
The trial came to a shocking end with the testimony of Navy SEAL Corey Scott for the prosecution. Scott, who had been granted testimonial immunity, told the court that Gallagher had stabbed the wounded ISIS fighter. But when asked whether Gallagher had murdered the captive, Scott said, no, because Scott himself did.
Gallagher was found guilty only of posing for a photograph with the dead ISIS fighter.
Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.