- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2020

A retired Navy SEAL whose rank and qualification pin were restored by order of President Trump accused military officials of leaking confidential court documents to a New York Times reporter last year during his high-profile war crimes trial in an effort to create a false narrative about the case and ultimately taint the jury pool.

Former Chief Special Operator Edward Gallagher was convicted of posing for a photograph with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter in Iraq in 2017 but was acquitted of more serious charges, including murder. The uproar over the case eventually led to the firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer.

Mr. Gallagher has filed a lawsuit against veteran New York Times reporter David Philipps — who wrote almost 30 articles about the case — along with new Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithewaite, Mr. Spencer’s just-sworn-in successor, in his official capacity. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

The Navy “chose to corruptly attempt to tip the scales of justice in their favor through an unlawful campaign of leaking Privacy Act-protected documents,” Mr. Gallagher’s lawyers argue. According to the lawsuit, the primary beneficiary of the leaks was Mr. Philipps at the New York Times, who was called a “willing participant” in the scheme.

“He has made a career out of falsely depicting combat veterans as broken, violent, drug-addicted criminals,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also calls Mr. Philipps, a 2014 Pulitizer Prize winner for a series on injured soldiers, a “marginal reporter.” Mr. Gallagher’s lawyers said they didn’t name The New York Times in the lawsuit because they believe he lied to the editors about the accuracy of his information.

Mr. Gallagher’s lawyers said Navy officials agreed to provide the reporter with protected documents in “clear violation” of both the Privacy Act and court orders so he could “write a damning portrayal of Chief Gallagher, with reckless disregard for the truth.” The lawsuit claims Mr. Phillips misrepresented testimony and created false information, such as saying he was accused of “indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.”

“This was never an allegation against Chief Gallagher and was wholly invented by Phillips,” the lawsuit stated.

The New York Times brushed off the lawsuit, calling it “long on conspiracy theory and very short on fact,” in regard to what happened in Iraq with Mr. Gallagher and his SEAL team.

“Dave Philipps did what any good journalist should: he accurately reported on a criminal trial, including testimony that implicated Mr. Gallagher in the death of a man. Nowhere in a 40-page complaint does Mr. Gallagher deny his role in the killing,” a spokesperson for The New York Times told The Washington Times.

Mr. Gallagher was arrested on Sept. 11, 2018 on charges relating to his deployment to Iraq the previous year with his unit, Alpha Platoon of SEAL Team 7.

The lawsuit claims Navy prosecutors slipped Mr. Phillips about 500 pages of confidential documents from investigators, including witness interview summaries and seized text messages, because Mr. Gallagher did not plead guilty. He was sent to pre-trial confinement but later released at the order of Mr. Trump, who harshly criticized the Navy’s handling of the case.

Even after the acquittal, the lawsuit says the Navy continued to supply Mr. Phillips with confidential information in a campaign to oust Mr. Gallagher from the SEALs and stripping of his coveted Trident pin and higher rank. But Mr. Trump allowed Mr. Gallagher to retire as a chief petty officer and retain his SEAL pin.

His lawyers want a jury trial and are asking non-specified damages along with any other relief the court deems appropriate.

A trial date has not been set.

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