SAN DIEGO — Embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter criticized Navy officials on Monday for their plans to possibly remove a Navy SEAL acquitted of murder charges from the service against the wishes of President Donald Trump.
Hunter commented Monday outside San Diego federal court regarding the Navy's handling of the war crimes case of Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who was acquitted by a military jury this summer of stabbing a wounded teenage ISIS fighter to death in Mosul, Iraq, as well as other charges of attempting to kill unarmed Iraqi civilians.
Hunter discussed the Gallagher case for about five minutes with reporters, but did not comment regarding his ongoing campaign fraud case, in which he's accused of misusing $250,000 in campaign funds for personal use.
Hunter was indicted along with his wife on five dozen criminal counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy, and falsification of records. Margaret Hunter, 44, has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and awaits sentencing.
Hunter was hoping to ask a judge to allow a new attorney to represent him but Monday's hearing was postponed. If granted, his new attorney will be Paul Pfingst - a former San Diego County District Attorney. Recently, Hunter fired his lead attorney along with two others.
Federal officials are challenging the move saying there is a conflict.
Hunter will return to court Dec. 3.
Gallagher was demoted in rank based on the sole conviction he received in the court martial for posing with the ISIS fighter's corpse in a photograph.
On Nov. 15, Trump restored Gallagher's rank, but Navy officials said days later that a "trident review" would go forward regarding whether Gallagher would remain a member of the SEALs.
Hunter, who has supported Gallagher throughout his court martial and news of the trident review, said "The military will never admit that it's wrong on anything even when it obviously is," calling the Gallagher case an example of "prosecutorial and bureaucratic abuse from within the military system."
Hunter, who told reporters he's been in contact with Gallagher, said "What the Navy was going to do was purely punitive, just to slap (Gallagher) in the face one last time before he retired."
Hunter also criticized the Navy for ignoring Trump's authority as commander in chief. "When the president says that Eddie Gallagher will retire with his trident with all the honors that he's earned in the Navy, that sends a pretty clear message that no retaliatory act by the Navy against Chief Gallagher is going to be accepted by the president," Hunter said. "In this case, President Trump is the Secretary of the Navy's boss. He's everybody in the military's boss. So when he says something, whether he tweets it or not, or says it in a certain way or not, just because it's not written in the perfect bureaucratic order or way that we're used to from other people, doesn't mean that he doesn't mean what he says."
On Sunday, Trump tweeted that he was "not pleased with the way that Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher's trial was handled by the Navy," and said that Gallagher would retire with his Trident Pin.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was fired Sunday, with the Gallagher case cited in a statement from the Pentagon as the central factor in Spencer's removal.
DOD spokesman Jonathan Hoffman wrote that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper asked for Spencer's resignation after Spencer privately proposed to the White House to restore Gallagher's rank, despite his opposing public stance on the issue.
In a resignation letter dated this Sunday, Spencer does not reference Gallagher specifically, but states that issues with Trump played a role.
"Unfortunately it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline," he wrote. "I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The President deserves and should expect a Secretary of the Navy who is aligned with his vision for the future of our force generation and sustainment."
In Trump's Sunday tweet regarding the Gallagher case, he briefly thanked Spencer "for his service & commitment."
The Navy SEAL review board is slated to hear Gallagher's case on Dec. 2.