POLITICO Playbook: Inside Richard Spencer’s ouster

By ANNA PALMER and JAKE SHERMAN

Presented by

DRIVING THE DAY

WAPO’S DAVID IGNATIUS, whose father was secretary of the Navy from 1967-1969, weighs in on the firing/dismissal of Navy Secretary RICHARD SPENCER — and seems to have some good inside reporting.

— IGNATIUS: “In firing Richard Spencer, Trump recklessly crosses another line”: “Spencer had tried to find a compromise, sources tell me, after Trump tweeted Thursday, ‘The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin.’ Spencer feared that a direct order from Trump to protect Gallagher, who is represented by two former partners of Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, would be seen as subverting military justice.

“After that Trump tweet, Spencer cautioned acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney that he would not overturn the planned SEAL peer review of Gallagher without a direct presidential order; he privately told associates that if such an order came, he might resign rather than carry it out. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with the White House late Thursday to try to avert this collision.

“Milley’s de-escalation efforts initially appeared to be successful. A Pentagon official messaged me Friday morning: ‘Missiles back in their silos … for the time being.’ But the truce was short-lived. By Saturday, the White House was demanding to know whether Spencer had threatened to resign; the Navy secretary issued a statement denying that he had made any such public threat and continued to seek a deal that would protect the Navy from a direct showdown with Trump.

“‘It was a hold-your-nose solution,’ said a source close to Spencer about his effort to broker an arrangement that would allow Gallagher to retire at the end of November with his former rank, an honorable discharge and his Trident pin, as Trump wanted, but without direct presidential interference in the SEAL review process. As so often happens with attempts to work with Trump’s erratic demands, this one ended in disaster. ‘The president wants you to go,’ Esper told Spencer on Sunday, according to this source. Esper then toed the White House line and announced Spencer’s dismissal.” WaPo

— NYT’S HELENE COOPER, MAGGIE HABERMAN and DAVE PHILIPPS: “A Defense Department official said Chief Gallagher would now keep his Trident pin, the symbol of his membership in the SEALs, at Mr. Esper’s direction because of concerns that the events of the past few days would make it impossible for him to get an impartial hearing.” NYT

Good Monday morning.

OH MY … ABC: “House Intelligence Committee in possession of video, audio recordings from Giuliani associate Lev Parnas,” by Katherine Faulders, John Santucci and Allison Pecorin: “The House Intelligence Committee is in possession of audio and video recordings and photographs provided to the committee by Lev Parnas, an associate of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who reportedly played a key role in assisting him in his efforts to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Ukraine, multiple sources familiar with the matter tell ABC News.

“The material submitted to the committee includes audio, video and photos that include Giuliani and Trump. It was unclear what the content depicts and the committees only began accessing the material last week.” ABC

IS THE PRESIDENT GONNA BE THANKING MULVANEY FOR HIS SERVICE SOON? … WAPO: “White House review turns up emails showing extensive effort to justify Trump’s decision to block Ukraine military aid,” by Josh Dawsey, Carol Leonnig and Tom Hamburger: “A confidential White House review of President Trump’s decision to place a hold on military aid to Ukraine has turned up hundreds of documents that reveal extensive efforts to generate an after-the-fact justification for the decision and a debate over whether the delay was legal, according to three people familiar with the records.

“The research by the White House Counsel’s Office, which was triggered by a congressional impeachment inquiry announced in September, includes early August email exchanges between acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House budget officials seeking to provide an explanation for withholding the funds after the president had already ordered a hold in mid-July on the nearly $400 million in security assistance, according to the three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.

“One person briefed on the records examination said White House lawyers are expressing concern that the review has turned up some unflattering exchanges and facts that could at a minimum embarrass the president. It’s unclear whether the Mulvaney discussions or other records pose any legal problems for Trump in the impeachment inquiry, but some fear they could pose political problems if revealed publicly.”

WSJ: “Ukraine Energy Official Says Giuliani Associates Tried to Recruit Him,” by Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Christopher Matthews: “Two associates of Rudy Giuliani tried to recruit a top Ukrainian energy official in March in a proposed takeover of the state oil-and-gas company, describing the company’s chief executive and the then-U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as part of ‘this Soros cartel’ working against President Trump.

“‘You’re a Republican, right?’ Andrew Favorov, the head of natural gas for state-run Naftogaz, recalled the men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, asking him, after their reference to investor and Democratic donor George Soros. ‘We want you to be our guy.’

“Mr. Favorov said he met voluntarily this week with New York federal prosecutors as part of an investigation into the activities of Messrs. Fruman, Parnas and Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney. Prosecutors last month arrested Messrs. Fruman and Parnas on campaign-finance charges stemming from alleged efforts to leverage political connections and campaign donations—some from foreign donors—to benefit their own business interests and to assist Mr. Giuliani in efforts to oust Ms. Yovanovitch.” WSJ

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