SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Several Bay Area members of Congress said they wanted a further investigation into the firing of a Navy Captain and the subsequent resignation of the acting Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly.
Modly resigned Tuesday following an uproar over his handling of a coronavirus outbreak on an aircraft carrier and his harsh rebuke of the ship’s commander after his desperate plea for help was leaked to the media.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper confirmed Tuesday he had accepted Modly’s resignation, which comes a day after Modly lanched a profanity-filled tirade against former USS Theodore Roosevelt commander Capt. Brett Crozier in remarks to sailors aboard the ship.
Modly – who flew 8,000 miles to where the ship was docked in Guam to deliver the address – said Crozier was “too stupid or too naive” to command the ship for allowing his warning about the coronavirus to be disseminated by the media. Modly also accused the Santa Rosa native of committing a “betrayal” and creating a “big controversy” in Washington and of personally leaking his warning to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“We need to get more answers, this resignation is not the end of the story,” U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael told KPIX.
“He just sort of swooped in and fired the captain. There’s reporting that he did it because he thought Trump would want him fired. So this becomes like an episode of The Apprentice and that’s just not the way it ought to work,” Huffman added.
Crozier has since reportedly tested positive for the virus and as of Monday, 173 of the ship’s crew have now tested positive for the virus.
Following a backlash about his remarks, Modly initially defended them in a statement Monday, saying “I stand by every word I said.” Hours later, Modly apologized to the Navy for his comments. According to published reports, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Modly to apologize.
“Thomas Modly’s resignation as Acting Navy Secretary was the right thing to do. However, the problem of lackluster leadership from the Navy, the DOD, and the Trump Administration remains a grave concern,” said U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo. “Trying to gag whistleblowers and keep the public in the dark about the extent of the coronavirus crisis and its impact on our brave servicemembers – whether they’re serving aboard an aircraft carrier, a mercy ship, abroad, or on a base in the United States – is beyond negligent, it’s criminally obtuse.”
“Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naive nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite,” Modly said in his statement. “We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care. Captain Crozier is smart and passionate. 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.”
Before stepping down Tuesday, Bay Area lawmakers had called for Modly’s immediate resignation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement saying Modly’s “actions and words demonstrate his failure to prioritize the force protection of our troops. He showed a serious lack of the sound judgment and strong leadership needed during this time. Acting Secretary Modly must be removed from his position or resign.”
In a letter to Secretary Esper, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) said Modly’s actions showed “an alarming lack of judgment and leadership by the head of the Department of Navy.”
“The Secretary of the Navy and 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,” the letter said. “We are deeply concerned that the recent actions of Acting Secretary of Navy Modly risks losing the confidence of men and women in uniform. Thomas Modly is unfit to lead the Department of Navy.”
“I am requesting that the President immediately demand Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly’s resignation,” said Rep. Jackie Speier in a statement. “The memorandum from Capt. Brett Crozier rightly raised concerns that the Navy was insufficiently prepared to address the crisis on board his ship, and insufficiently concerned with the risks to the Sailors on board … This weekend, Acting Secretary Modly’s so-called efforts to get the Roosevelt back on track instead made things worse. Amid continued delays in efforts to test and evacuate Sailors off the ship, his remarks to the crew were tone deaf, insulting their commander and their intelligence.”
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) also called for Modly’s removal.
“I disagree strongly with the manner in which acting Secretary of the Navy Modly has handled the COVID-19 outbreak on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt. His decision to relieve Captain Crozier was at best an overreaction to the extraordinary steps the Captain took to protect his crew.” said Smith in a statement. “Acting Secretary Modly’s decision to address the sailors on the Roosevelt and personally attack Captain Crozier shows a tone-deaf approach more focused on personal ego than one of the calm, steady leadership we so desperately need in this crisis.”
President Trump, who initially defended Modly handling of the matter, on Monday told reporters at the White House he may “look into” the controversial removal of Crozier from his command and Modly’s subsequent speech to crewmembers aboard the ship.
“To get in front of that ship’s crew and criticize this man who is beloved … to me it’s beyond belief,” said Retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Brendan Kearney, who believes the episode could mean the end of Captain Crozier’s military career, but that his name will live on.
“He will probably end up being somewhat of a legend in the Navy for all the good things he clearly had done. People are going to disagree with the way he went about doing what he did,” Kearney said. “But he had the moral courage to stand up and do what he felt was right.”
Modly was appointed acting Navy Secretary after the previous Secretary, Richard Spencer, was told to resign amid a dispute between Spencer and President Trump last November over the fate of SEAL commando Edward Gallagher accused of war crimes.
Joe Vazquez contributed to this report.