"I need a formal order to act," Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said Saturday. Of Trump’s tweets, "I don't interpret them as a formal order."
Trump tweeted Thursday that the Navy "will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher's Trident Pin," inserting himself into an ongoing legal review of the sailor's ability to hold onto the pin that designates him a SEAL.
The Navy on Wednesday had notified Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher that he will face a review early next month to determine if he should remain on the elite force.
Gallagher was acquitted of a murder charge in the stabbing death of an Islamic State militant captive, but a military jury convicted him of posing with the corpse while in Iraq in 2017. He was then demoted to chief.
Spencer, speaking on the sidelines of the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada, said if the president requests the process to stop, the process stops.
"Good order and discipline is also obeying the orders of the president of the United States," he said.
Despite the differing views with the president over the appropriate handling of the case, Spencer told reporters that he has not threatened to resign. But he acknowledged that he serves at the pleasure of the president.
“The president of the United States is the commander in chief. He's involved in every aspect of government and he can make decisions and give orders as appropriate,” he said.
Gallagher's lawyers have accused the Navy of trying to remove the SEAL designation in retaliation for a decision by Trump last week to restore Gallagher's rank.
Gallagher filed a complaint with the inspector general accusing Rear Adm. Collin Green, the Naval Special Warfare commander, of insubordination for defying Trump's actions.
Speaking Sunday on “Fox & Friends,” Gallagher repeated his argument that the Navy was acting in retaliation. “They could have taken my Trident at any time they wanted,” he said. “Now they’re trying to take it after the president restored my rank.” He said he wanted to be allowed to retire on Nov. 30 “with all the honors that I’ve earned, get back to my family.”
Green also notified three SEAL officers who oversaw Gallagher during the deployment — Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, Lt. Jacob Portier and Lt. Thomas MacNeil — that they are also being reviewed, according to U.S. officials.
Removing their Trident pins means they will no longer be SEALs but could remain in the Navy.
The Navy has revoked 154 Trident pins since 2011.