SECNAV apologizes for calling USS TR captain 'too stupid' as Trump hints at intervention

Elizabeth Howe
April 07, 2020 - 9:49 am


Conflict regarding the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt continues as Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly apologizes for the remarks he made on board the vessel — just hours after saying he stood by his criticisms. 

Shortly before Modly's official apology was released last night, President Donald Trump indicated during a White House press briefing that he may intervene in the situation on behalf of Capt. Brett Crozier, the vessel's dismissed captain. 

Modly dismissed Crozier last week after a letter Crozier sent about his concerns for the safety of the sailors on board amid a coronavirus outbreak was leaked to the media. 

Captain of USS Theodore Roosevelt who pleaded for coronavirus help relieved of duty

On Monday, Modly addressed the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt regarding Crozier. Modly's remarks were also leaked to the media.

"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 in the now well-circulated recording. 

LISTEN: The leaked speech about the leaked letter: Navy Sec slams USS TR captain

Members of Modly's audience — purportedly the crew aboard the USS TR — can be heard voicing their own opinions throughout the recording. Notably, immediately following Modly's comment referring to Crozier as "stupid," one person, can be clearly heard asking, "What the f----?"

As the recording spread, members of Congress began calling for Modly's resignation or dismissal. But the Acting Secretary of the Navy — at least for a little while yesterday — chose to stand by his comments. 

"The spoken words were from the heart, and meant for them," Modly said in an emailed statement. "I stand by every word I said, even, regrettably any profanity that may have been used for emphasis...Anyone who has served on a Navy ship would understand. I ask, but don’t expect, that people read them in their entirety."

Shortly after, Trump said he planned to "get involved."

"I'm going to get involved and see exactly what's going on there," Trump said at a White House press briefing Monday night. "Because I don't want to destroy somebody for having a bad day."

And Modly's revised statement was soon after released to the press. 

"Let me be clear," Modly said. "I do not think Capt. Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite. We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care. Capt. 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."

Modly also apologized to the captain, his family and the entire crew of the TR "for any pain my remarks may have caused."

Opinion: Crozier's firing reveals a deep divide between troops and the Pentagon

"They, and the entire Navy, have my full commitment that I will continue to help get the TR back to full health and back to sea where we can move forward beyond this unfortunate situation," Modly said.

During a Pentagon press briefing Monday evening, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman declined to comment on the developing situation regarding the acting secretary of the Navy. As of late last week, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had made no official public statements regarding his stance on Modly's decision. He did, however, appear in televised interviews defending the acting secretary's decision. 

“It was based on his view that he had lost faith and confidence in the captain, based on his actions. It was supported by Navy leadership,” Esper said.

As of Monday morning, the Navy had 431 confirmed COVID-19 cases — more than any other branch or component of the Armed Forces. 

According to CNN's Ryan Browne, 230 sailors assigned to the USS TR have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning. More than 70 percent of the crew have now been tested and only approximately 2,000 have been moved ashore — despite Crozier's call for 90 percent of the ship's crew to be evacuated. 

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