WASHINGTON, DC – Acting secretary of the US Navy has been forced to apologize after an expletive flyer in which he called the commander fired from USS Theodore Roosevelt hit by coronavirus “too naive or too stupid.”
Thomas Modly issued a written apology Monday hours after President Donald Trump, at a White House press conference, described his comments about Captain Brett E. Crozier as “rude.”
At least 173 sailors aboard the ship tested positive for the corona virus on Monday, and around 2,000 of the 4,865 crew members have been unloaded from the ship for testing.
Modly released Crozier from the command of the ship last week, saying he had lost confidence in him for showing “very poor judgment” in distributing memos widely asking for expedited evacuations from crew members to protect their health.
On Sunday, Modly flew to Guam to talk to the sailors on the aircraft carrier who had supported Crozier’s support when he left the ship on Friday. He rebuked them, saying they ignored their most basic duty to defend the U.S. interests.
“So, think about it when you encourage the man from the boat who is exposing you,” he said. “I understand you love that man. Glad you love him. But you are not required to love him.”
Monday night, Modly withdrew.
“I apologize for the confusion that might have been caused by this choice of words,” he wrote, referring to his speech above Roosevelt on Sunday. “I also want to apologize directly to Captain Crozier, his family and the entire crew of Theodore Roosevelt for all the pain that my comments might have caused.”
Defense Secretary Staff Mark Esper told Modly that he had to apologize, according to someone familiar with the conversation who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personal conversation.
Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday that he might get involved, agreeing that Modly’s criticism of Crozier was “a rude statement.” He said Crozier made a mistake when he sent memos to several people who expressed concern about the crew and the virus. In the memo, which was leaked to the media, Crozier said, “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.”
Trump said Crozier had a good career before this incident, adding, “I don’t want to destroy someone because of having a bad day.”
Modly, in his apology, reframe the previous statement that Crozier was “too naive or too stupid” to govern. Instead, he said he believed Crozier was “smart and passionate.”
“I believe, precisely because he is not naive and stupid, that he sent an alarming e-mail with the intention of putting it in the public domain in an effort to draw public attention to the situation on his ship,” Modly wrote.
On Sunday aboard, Modly had urged the crew to stop complaining.
“It is an important ship mission,” he said. “You all know this, but in my view your Captain forgets this and he deliberately compromises critical information about your status to draw greater attention to your situation.”
Modly, graduated from the 1983 Naval Academy, became the acting secretary of the Navy last November after Richard Spencer was deposed from the post. Trump last month appointed Retired Rear Admiral Kenneth Braithwaite, the current ambassador to Norway, to be the next Navy secretary.
In his remarks above Roosevelt, Modly raised the problem that is likely to please Trump. He accused the news media, for example, of manipulating the political agenda to divide the country and embarrass the Navy. He said China “would not be present” about the corona virus when it began to spread there a few months ago, echoing Trump’s repeated statements that China could do more to prevent a pandemic.
And Modly named the main challenger Trump from the Democratic Party, Joe Biden, who noted that the former vice president said Modly’s decision to fire Crozier was almost criminal. “I guarantee it’s not,” Modly said.
Modly said Crozier should have known his letter voiced urgent concern about the virus on his ship that would leak to the media. He said if Crozier didn’t think this would be the result, he was “too naive or too stupid to be the commander of a ship like this.”
He also accused Crozier of betraying his duties as an officer. “And I can tell you one more thing, because he did that he put it in a public forum and is now a big controversy in Washington D.C., and throughout the country,” Modly said.
After an unofficial transcript of Modly’s comments and audio recordings circulated widely on the Internet on Monday, at least one member of Congress urged him to be fired, and the others denounced his words as inappropriate.
“It is very disappointing that he will deliver a speech aboard the US aircraft carrier stating that Captain Crozier may be ‘stupid’ and slapping the media for trying to report the truth,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. “These dedicated seamen deserve better from their leadership.”
Representative Elaine Luria, a Virginia veteran Democrat and Navy, called for Modly to be fired, saying her remarks indicated that she was “not fit” to lead the Navy.
Asked Monday afternoon whether Esper still had full faith in Modly, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman declined to discuss the issue.
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