The US Navy secretary has said he does not consider a tweet by Donald Trump an order after the president waded into a row over the future of a Navy SEAL.
Richard Spencer has said he would need a formal instruction to act after Mr Trump signalled he would block a Navy deal convicted of battlefield misconduct being kicked out of the top special forces unit.
A review is to be held next month into whether the chief petty officer, Eddie Gallagher, should remain a Navy SEAL.
The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2019
Gallagher has been cleared of murder in the stabbing to death of an Islamic State militant, but was found guilty by a military court of posing with the dead body while in Iraq in 2017, resulting in his demotion.
However, Mr Trump intervened to restore Gallagher’s rank last week.
The president subsequently tweeted: “The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”
The badge worn by Navy SEALs is awarded following their completion of a gruelling selection course and indicates their membership of the elite community.
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But speaking at a security conference in Canada, Mr Spencer said: “I need a formal order to act.”
Referring to Mr Trump’s tweet, he added. “I don’t interpret them as a formal order.”
Mr Spencer added: “I do not interpret what the president does. I do what he says.
“The president of the United States is the commander in chief. He is involved in every aspect of government, and he can make decisions and do things and give orders as he deems appropriate.”
He also denied threatening to resign over the controversy and said the military review should go ahead despite Mr Trump’s tweet.
“I believe the process matters for good order and discipline,” he said.
Gallagher’s lawyers have accused the Navy of trying to remove his SEAL designation in retaliation for Mr Trump’s earlier decision to restore his rank.
They also claim the leadership is guilty of insubordination for defying Mr Trump, although the president did not explicitly pardon the SEAL for any wrongdoing.
Three SEAL officers who oversaw Gallagher during his deployment are also being reviewed, according to the 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.
Senior military leaders have previously warned that Mr Trump’s actions risked damaging the integrity of the military judicial system and the ability of service chiefs to ensure good order and discipline.