Facing public criticism and calls by lawmakers to resign, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly apologized on Monday for lambasting the ousted commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt as “stupid” and “naive” in an earlier speech to the ship’s crew.
“Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid,” Modly said in a statement, CNN reported. “I think, and always believed him to be the opposite. We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care. Captain Crozier is smart and passionate.”
After audio leaked of @SECNAV calling Captain Brett Crozier “too naive or too stupid” to be the commanding officer of USS Roosevelt, he has issued this apology, via @CBSDavidMartin: pic.twitter.com/b8GdP1q2Yl
— Weijia Jiang (@weijia) April 7, 2020
Modly fired Crozier from his post last week after an email the captain penned to Navy leaders was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle. In his email, Crozier pleaded for more swift and comprehensive action to address a coronavirus outbreak on his ship.
“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors,” wrote Crozier, who was given a warm send-off by his crew on Friday.
More than 170 members of the Roosevelt’s crew have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, per CNN. The New York Times reported on Sunday that Crozier himself may have tested positive for the disease.
In his speech to the ship’s crew, Modly suggested Crozier may have leaked the email to the press himself. But even if he didn’t, Modly stressed, the commander’s decision to forward the email to several people over an insecure email address was “stupid.” He also accused Crozier of not adhering to the chain of command ― an alleged failure the Navy said it’s investigating.
“If he didn’t think … that this information wasn’t going to get out into the public, in this information age that we live in, then he was too naive or too stupid to be commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly told the crew of Crozier. “The alternative is that he did it on purpose.”
Modly added that the commander’s actions had constituted a “betrayal of trust.”
As CNN noted, the acting secretary’s use of the word “betrayal” has particular significance “because saying an officer has betrayed the Navy is a court martial offense.”
Modly said in an initial statement Monday that he stood by “every word” of his address. Hours later, he issued the apology and walked back his criticism of Crozier. The Navy chief did not reinstate Crozier, however.
“I believe, precisely because he is not naive and stupid, that he sent his alarming email with the intention of getting it into the public domain in an effort to draw public attention to the situation on his ship. I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused,” Modly said.
He added that Crozier and his family, as well as the entire Navy, “have my full commitment that I will continue to help get the [Roosevelt] back to full health and back to sea where we can move forward beyond this unfortunate situation.”
When asked about Modly’s remarks calling Crozier “stupid,” President Donald Trump told reporters Monday that he’s “going to get involved.”
“You have two good people and they’re arguing, and I’m good ― believe it or not ― at settling arguments,” Trump said. “The letter shouldn’t have been sent. With all of that said, [Crozier’s] career prior to that was very good.”
“So I’m going to get involved and see exactly what’s going on there, because I don’t want to destroy someone for having a bad day,” he added.
It wouldn’t be the first time Trump has gotten involved in Navy disciplinary actions. In November, he reversed the organization’s decision to oust Eddie Gallagher from the elite Navy SEAL force. Gallagher had been convicted of posing in a photo with the corpse of a teen ISIS fighter.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper later fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer over his handling of Gallagher’s case.