The U.S. Navy’s top uniformed official could consider reinstating Capt. Brett Crozier, the former commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, pending an investigation of his being relieved of command.
Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, said on Thursday he wouldn’t rule out reinstating Crozier following the completion of a Navy internal investigation, the Wall Street Journal reported. Gilday said, “I am taking no options off the table as I review that investigation. I think that is my responsibility.”
Crozier was relieved of his command of the carrier following an outbreak of coronavirus last month that led the ship to divert from its course through the Philippine Sea and seek quarantine in Guam. Then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the Navy was sending medical support and negotiating the process of off-loading many aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt before Crozier sent a memo pleading for offloading and quarantining many of the crew for a two week period.
Some 416 crew members have already tested positive since the carrier diverted its course after the Navy confirmed the ship’s first three coronavirus cases on March 24. One of those infected members has been moved to an intensive care unit after being found unresponsive. Crozier himself tested positive with coronavirus.
Modly criticized Crozier’s disclosure — which was sent over unsecured email and later leaked to the press — which raised concerns about the secrecy of the ship’s disposition and its operational security, Modly said. Modly assessed that the disclosure led him to lose confidence in Crozier and informed his decision to relieve the captain of his command of the ship.
Members of the ship’s crew, however, have expressed support for the ousted captain. Modly appeared to further inflame the crew when he made an address over the ship’s onboard communications, in which he criticized Crozier as either “too naive or too stupid” to command. Modly later apologized and then offered his resignation as Acting Navy Secretary.
Crozier’s removal triggered a Navy internal investigation led by Adm. Richard Burke, the vice chief of naval operations. Burke reportedly concluded his investigation and submitted his findings on Wednesday. Gilday said the probe focused, in part, on how Crozier’s emailed memo eventually leaked to the press
Naval commanders are relieved of command and then later reinstated with some frequency. Bryan Clark of the Washington-based Hudson Institute think-tank told the Wall Street Journal that if Crozier is cleared of wrongdoing, he could be reinstated fairly quickly.
The decision to reinstate Crozier would normally come from the commander overseeing Naval Air Forces, however, defense officials told the Wall Street Journal that the high profile nature of Crozier’s removal would likely warrant a decision from Gilday and the new acting Navy Secretary, James McPherson.
Defense officials who spoke to the Wall Street Journal said the Navy could render a decision on Crozier’s command status by next week.