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Navy head apologizes to ousted carrier captain he called ‘stupid’ over coronavirus response

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly briefs the press about the Navy’s response to COVID-19, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., April 1, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando) | Capt. Brett Crozier addresses the crew for the first time as commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) during a change of command ceremony on the ship’s flight deck on Nov. 1, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sean Lynch/Released)
April 07, 2020

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly apologized Monday night for remarks he made earlier in the day criticizing Capt. Brett Crozier for his handling of a coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.

On Monday, Modly gave a speech over the aircraft carrier’s onboard public address system in which he described his reasons for removing Crozier from command of the aircraft carrier and said the captain was either “too naive or too stupid” to lead the ship. In a statement reported by CNN, Modly walked back some of his remarks and apologized to the captain for the criticism.

“Let me be clear, I do not think Captain 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. Captain Crozier is smart and passionate,” Modly’s statement reads. “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 previously stated he chose to relieve Crozier’s command of the ship over what he described as a loss of confidence in Crozier’s leadership. Modly said Crozier “raised concerns about the operational capabilities and operational security of the ship” when he described the outbreak on the ship in a widely disseminated email, which later leaked to the press.

In his Monday address to the crew Modly described Crozier’s email as a “betrayal.” In his Monday night comments, Modly directed part of his apology to Crozier and his family for “any pain my remarks may have caused.”

Modly reportedly delivered his apology after several lawmakers criticized his own handling of the controversy.

Rep. Adam Smith, (D-WA), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee called for Modly to be removed.

Rep. Elaine Luria, (D-VA), was another lawmaker who tweeted calls for Modly’s immediate removal.

Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday reportedly advised against relieving Crozier of his command until the Navy could complete a review of the incident. Gilday was expected to receive the initial results into the investigation of whether Crozier violated the chain of command in his email disclosure on Monday night, however he reportedly announced an extension of the investigation Monday night.