WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former U.S. Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer is scheduled to endorse former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg at a campaign event in Virginia on Friday, Bloomberg’s campaign said, making him the first former Trump administration official to back a Democratic candidate in the 2020 presidential election.
Bloomberg, 77, has mounted an unconventional bid for president. The billionaire has been spending more than a quarter billion dollars of his own fortune on TV advertising, which some of his opponents have criticized as a way of buying his way into the election.
The business tycoon has skipped early nominating contests and will not appear as a candidate on ballots until March 3, when 14 states hold votes on Super Tuesday.
“Restoring America’s standing in the world and repairing relationships with our allies will be a top priority in Mike’s administration. And he knows our nation owes a debt of gratitude to our veterans and military families,” Spencer said in a statement issued by the Bloomberg campaign.
U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican who is running for re-election in November, tapped Spencer to be the Navy’s top civilian in June 2017.
But last year, Spencer was fired because of conflicts within the Trump administration over Spencer’s handling of the case of a Navy SEAL who was convicted of battlefield misconduct.
Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher was convicted by a military jury for illegally posing for pictures with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter. However, he was acquitted of murder in the detainee’s death and cleared of charges that he deliberately fired on unarmed civilians.
While Gallagher avoided a prison sentence, he was demoted in rank and pay grade for his conviction. The Navy informed Gallagher that a five-member panel of Navy commandos would review his case to determine whether he would be fit to remain on the elite force.
Trump intervened in the case, ordering the Navy to restore Gallagher’s rank and pay, and lashed out at the proceedings in a post on Twitter. He later said that Gallagher would “retire peacefully with all of the honors that he has earned.”
Critics said at the time that Trump’s actions would undermine military justice and implicitly condone war crimes.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama