President Donald Trump dismissed Navy Secretary Richard Spencer but Conan, the military K-9 who cornered former ISIS leader Abu al-Baghdadi, will stay on the job.
As he walked back to the Oval Office with the four-legged guest of honor, the president was asked if he ordered Defense Secretary Mark Esper to fire then-Navy Secretary Richard Spencer over his handling of a Navy Seal’s disciplinary process. “Yes, I do,” Trump replied, though not a clear answer to the question.
The commander in chief hosted the Belgian Malinois at the White House on Monday, awarding the dog a medal and plaque for its role in the late-October raid that Trump administration officials say ended when al-Baghdadi detonated an explosive vest he was wearing. Conan chased the extremist group leader, cornering him in a standoff that ended with al-Baghdadi and two of his children dead.
Conan was injured in the blast.
The K-9 showed no signs of lingering injury Monday, striding calmly out of the Oval Office behind Trump and first lady Melania Trump as a handler closely watched the animal’s every move. In fact, the president said Conan has been on several raids since recovering from the al-Baghdadi mission injuries.
Trump also called Conan a “tough cookie,” adding enemies would have “no chance” against dog if it was ordered to chase them.
After being asked if Conan would now retire, Trump said no, saying this is the “primetime” of the K-9’s military career. To the president, Conan is the “ultimate fighter” and the “ultimate everything.”
“You’re very lucky he’s not in a bad mood, Jeff,” Trump joked about the dog to Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason as Conan sat on the top step of the White House’s Rose Garden colonnade enjoying a head scratch from Vice President Mike Pence.
It was Pence who revealed Trump was enthusiastic about using dog during the al-Baghdadi mission, aiming to avoid U.S. military personnel being injured or killed.
Trump was back to claiming that, under his watch, the U.S. military and its allies have toppled “100 percent” of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate. A few weeks ago, the president told a campaign rally crowd the figure is more like 70 percent, yet another contradiction of his turbulent presidency.
The event was not on Trump’s or Pence’s public schedules that were released Sunday night and Monday morning by the White House. The press corps learned of the event about a half-hour before when a press aide directed them to line up for “an open press event” on the overhead speaker system in the West Wing’s press area.
It ended with a light moment and chuckles when a reporter asked Melania Trump if she would one day like to adopt Conan for the first couple’s 13-year-old son, Barron Trump.
The former model, sporting a long and fashionable black coat after accepting the official White House Christmas tree a few minutes earlier, turned toward the press corps with a wide smile and said, “No!”