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April 7, 2020, 5:39 p.m. EDT

Acting Navy secretary resigns after calling fired carrier captain ‘stupid’

Thomas Modly apologized for inflammatory speech, quits after harsh criticism by lawmakers

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By Associated Press

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The episode began when the Roosevelt reported its first COVID-19 case among the crew on March 22, two weeks after making a port visit in Vietnam. The outbreak has sidelined the warship indefinitely and created conflict at the highest levels of the Pentagon.

Esper had publicly expressed his support for Modly’s decision to fire Crozier, but after Modly’s speech aboard the ship, Esper grew unsettled. Just hours after Modly issued a statement Monday defending his words, Esper compelled Modly to reverse course and issue a public apology.

“I want to apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused,” he wrote, referring to his speech aboard the Roosevelt. “I also want to apologize directly to Captain Crozier, his family, and the entire crew of the Theodore Roosevelt for any pain my remarks may have caused.”

Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday that he might get involved, agreeing that Modly’s criticism of Crozier was “a rough statement.” He said Crozier made a mistake when he sent a memo to several people laying out his concerns about the crew and the virus. In the memo, which was leaked to the media, Crozier said: “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.”

Trump said Crozier had a good career prior to this incident, adding, “I don’t want to destroy somebody for having a bad day.”

Modly, in his apology, reframed his earlier remarks that Crozier was “too naive or too stupid” to command. Instead, he said he believes 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 wrote.

Aboard the ship, Modly had urged the crew to stop complaining.

“It is the mission of the ship that matters,” he said. “You all know this, but in my view your Captain lost sight of this and he compromised critical information about your status intentionally to draw greater attention to your situation.”

Modly, a 1983 Naval Academy graduate, became the acting Navy secretary last November after Richard Spencer was ousted from the position. Trump last month nominated retired Rear Adm. Kenneth Braithwaite, the current ambassador to Norway, to be the next Navy secretary.

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