After Navy Secretary Ousted Over Trump Fallout, Veterans Advocate Rebukes 'President Chaos' for 'Throwing Grenade' at Military Order

An advocate U.S. military veterans this week dubbed President Donald Trump "president chaos" and accused him of harmful meddling in military affairs.

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the non-partisan group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), made the remarks while speaking with CNN's Kate Bolduan on Monday after she asked him to comment on Trump's pardon and intervention in the case of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. The case prompted a chain of events that appears to have resulted in the termination of Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer on Sunday.

"It's chaos. He's president chaos," Rieckhoff said. "Now that's overflowing into the Pentagon. And frankly, this is not new. He's been at war with the Pentagon politically on a number of issues. If you go back to the trans ban, to the Kurds, to [James] Mattis, now this. So, what you constantly have is Trump at odds with his own military."

Trump Salute
An advocate for U.S. military veterans claims President Donald Trump is causing "chaos" by meddling in military disciplinary matters. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty

Gallagher had faced court martial charges including war crimes, but was acquitted on all charges over the summer, except for posing for an "unofficial picture with a human casualty." The Navy stripped Gallagher of his ranking, but it was restored after Trump issued a pardon. The president intervened again when Navy officials began the process of removing Gallagher from the SEALs.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper says he demanded the resignation of Spencer for violating the chain of command by attempting to make a secret deal with Trump over the Gallagher case. Spencer wrote a letter to Trump suggesting he resigned the position because he could "not in good conscience" follow Trump's orders about Gallagher. "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 said.

Rieckhoff considers the incident part of an overall pattern of disorder in the military, caused by the actions of Trump.

"The bottom line is, if you're in uniform right now, you see chaos at the top, you see leadership that's not on the same page, and a you see a senior leader saying basically that the president gave him an unlawful order and he's not going to follow it, and that guy is out," Rieckhoff said. "When the commander in chief is at odds with the Navy SEALs, we've got a problem."

Retired Pentagon spokesman David Lapan also participated in the discussion. Lapan, a 30-year veteran of the Marines, said the episode has had a "corrosive effect" on the military. He said Trump has made Gallagher "virtually untouchable," and although the president technically has the authority as commander in chief of the military "that doesn't make it right."

"Rather than acting as commander in chief, [Trump is] acting as a reality TV show host or producer," said Lapan. "It's all about conflict, controversy, ratings, making decisions on his own and ignoring the advice of people that are experienced and have the background."

When Bolduan asked which of the involved parties were "out of line," Rieckhoff was quick to respond and appeared to have few doubts.

"The president's out of line. He's reaching into the military and meddling with good order and discipline, in direct conflict with the Navy SEALs," said Rieckhoff. "And Gallagher is out of line. We can argue about what charges he should or should not have been convicted of, but he was convicted of one charge. The rank was taken away. The Navy decided to take the rank away and the president reached in and decided to throw a grenade in that."