Acting US Navy secretary apologizes to carrier commander after rebuke
WASHINGTON - Reuters
In this Dec. 15, 2019, file photo, U.S.Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), addresses the crew during an all hands call on the ship's flight deck while conducting routine training in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kaylianna Genier via AP)
Acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly issued an apology on April 6 to the former commander of a coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier after sharply criticizing him in a speech to his crew, just days after firing him.
"I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naive nor stupid," Modly said amid calls for his removal, including from the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, a Democrat.
The apology, which Modly also extended to the carrier's crew and Crozier's family, was a reversal from a statement the Navy's top civilian issued hours earlier that said: "I stand by every word I said."
Modly, in a surprise speech to the crew of a coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier, castigated their former commander for writing a leaked letter that demanded the Navy take stronger action to halt the spread of the illness.
"If he didn't think that information was going to get out into the public in this information age that we live in, then he was A, too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this," he said.
"The alternative is that he did it on purpose."
Modly said the leak of the letter amounted to a betrayal by the captain, who was responsible one way or another.
U.S. officials verified a recording of the speech heard by Reuters. Shortly after his comments leaked, Modly issued a statement that said: "I stand by every word I said, even, regrettably any profanity that may have been used for emphasis."
A sailor on board the ship told Reuters that Modly's speech only angered the crew.
"Nobody likes what he had to say... He made everyone more irritated," said the sailor, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Crozier's crew members showed their disapproval of Modly's decision by posting videos online last week of their captain's emotional sendoff. Sailors applauded Crozier and hailed him as a hero, out to defend his crew at great cost to his career. Some 173 crew have tested positive so far, possibly including Crozier himself.
Modly and President Donald Trump have both been criticized for the decision to relieve Crozier of command.
'No longer fit to lead'
Democrats in Congress have called for an investigation by the Pentagon, while Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden said Modly "shot the messenger."
An increasing number of Democratic lawmakers were calling on Modly to be removed.
"As Members of Congress, we request that you fire Acting Secretary Modly because he is no longer fit to lead," Representatives Ted Lieu and Ruben Gallego wrote to U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
Crozier, who took command in November, wrote a four-page letter describing a bleak situation aboard the carrier as more of his crew began falling ill.
He called for "decisive action": removing more than 4,000 sailors from the ship and isolating them, and wrote that unless the Navy acted immediately it would be failing to properly safeguard "our most trusted asset - our sailors."
The letter put the Pentagon on the defensive and alarmed families of those on the vessel. Modly had said Crozier failed to safeguard the confidentiality of the letter.
One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said military officials had recommended against firing Crozier, arguing that it was better for an investigation to be complete.
The official said Modly was made aware that the White House wanted Crozier out, though it does not appear that Trump directed him to do so.