(CBS SF/CNN) — Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly has ripped the former commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Capt. Brett Crozier, calling him “too stupid or too naive” to command the aircraft carrier during an address to the ship’s crew Monday, according to published reports.
Modley relieved the Santa Rosa native of his command last week, saying he lost confidence in his ability to lead under the stress of dealing with a coronavirus outbreak on the ship and for going outside the chain of command to circulate a memo pleading for help from Washington, which quickly became public after being leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Crozier has reportedly tested positive for the virus and as of Monday, 173 of the ship’s crew have now tested positive for coronavirus. About half of the roughly 4,000 crew members have been evacuated from the ship and moved ashore.
On Monday, Modly addressed the remaining crew members over the ship’s PA system and suggested Crozier intentionally leaked to the media the memo in which he warned about the coronavirus spread aboard the aircraft carrier and urged action to save his sailors.
“If he didn’t think, in my opinion, that this information wasn’t going to get out to the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either A, too naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly said. “The alternative is that he did this on purpose.”
COMPLETE COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC
The acting secretary accused Crozier of committing a “betrayal” and creating a “big controversy” in Washington by disseminating the warning so widely.
“It was a betrayal. And I can tell you one other thing: because he did that he put it in the public’s forum and it is now a big controversy in Washington, DC,” Modly said, according to a transcript of remarks Modly made to the crew, copies of which have been provided to CNN by multiple Navy officials.
Crozier had written to Navy leadership to alert them to the challenges of trying to contain the disease aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and to urgently request sailors be allowed to quarantine off the 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,” Crozier wrote in the memo.
On Saturday, President Trump said it was ‘inappropriate’ of Crozier to write his memo. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday defended Crozier’s removal, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper the move is an example of how “we hold leaders accountable for their actions.”
“I think acting Secretary (Thomas) Modly made a very tough decision — a decision that I support. It was based on his view that he had lost faith and confidence in the captain based on his actions,” Esper said on “State of the Union.” “It’s just another example (of) how we hold leaders accountable for their actions.”
Crozier’s popularity with the ship’s crew was on display in videos showing sailors giving him a warm and loud send off, clapping and chanting his name as he left the ship for the final time.
Modly acknowledged Crozier’s popularity with the crew in his remarks to the sailors. “I cannot control or attempt to change whatever anger you have with me for relieving your beloved CO,” Modly said, using the slang for commanding officer. “I understand you may be angry with me for the rest of your lives.”
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, on Monday defended Crozier, and said he wrote to President Donald Trump, Department of Defense Inspector General, the Secretary of Defense as well as Modly demanding a further explanation into the Navy’s decision to relieve Crozier of his command.
“Captain Crozier acted with only the best interest of his crew in mind, showing an unwavering commitment to their health and safety during this uncertain time,” Thompson said.
“As a combat veteran, his dismissal has me deeply concerned and the comments made by the Secretary of the Navy are downright unacceptable. The entire Department of Defense should be focused on the health of our men and women in uniform, not closing ranks and slandering a good man who has served his nation honorably. I will continue defending Capt. Crozier and asking the Navy to conduct a full investigation into this matter,” Thompson said.
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