Dem Reps. Call on Esper to Fire Navy Secretary Over Dismissal of Captain Who Sounded Coronavirus Alarm on Ship

U.S. Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) have sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper asking him to fire Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly for his insults towards Captain Brett Crozier, the former captain of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, a naval vessel which experienced a coronavirus outbreak.

Lieu and Gallego's letter criticizes Modly for referring to Crozier as "too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer" in leaked audio of a speech Modly made to soldiers left onboard the carrier after Crozier's dismissal.

The letter also criticized Modly for "hastily" firing Crozier before conducting a thorough investigation into the circumstances he faced and concluded that Modly "has shown he can no longer lead the best Navy in the world."

Modly fired Crozier after Crozier sent an email asking his chain of command to help isolate 4,000 sailors during a coronavirus outbreak on board while the ship was docked in Guam.

Modly accused Capt. Brett Crozier of "poor judgment" and "causing unnecessary panic" for including "20 or 30" recipients on the email he sent to his immediate chain of command. Modly also said Crozier sent the email from an allegedly "non-secure, unclassified" email address.

Crozier's email was leaked to and published by The San Francisco Chronicle. About 1,000 sailors were later removed from the vessel, and 114 crewmembers aboard have since tested positive for COVID-19.

Thomas Modly
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill December 03, 2019 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

At the time of Crozier's firing, Modly said he made the decision to fire Crozier over the letter independently, stating, "It unnecessarily raised alarms with the families of our Sailors and Marines with no plan to address those concerns. It raised concerns about the operational capabilities and operational security of the ship that could have emboldened our adversaries to seek advantage, and it undermined the chain of command who had been moving and adjusting as rapidly as possible to get him the help he needed."

However, Lieu and Gallego's letter states, "During this difficult time for our nation, we need steady, calm leadership. Acting Secretary Modly has shown exactly the opposite."

"His hastily fired CAPT Crozier before an investigation was started into all the facts and circumstances," the letter says. "He made inflammatory comments about a highly decorated commander; and he leveled the insults before the sailors that worked for CAPT Crozier at a time when CAPT Crozier is himself fighting COVID-19."

The letter continues, "Acting Secretary Modly has become more than just a distraction to the Administration and our military, he has shown he can no longer lead the best Navy in the world."

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) agreed with Lieu and Gallego in the following statement: "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."

Smith continued, "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. I no longer have confidence in acting Secretary Modly's leadership of Navy and believe he should be removed from his position."

Calling Modly's speech "an outrage," Rep. Gallego wrote to Newsweek, "In it, he called CAPT Brett Crozier, the ship's former commanding officer who he removed for 'going outside the chain of command' either naïve or stupid for asking the Navy for help within the chain of command. In fact, he criticized CAPT Crozier for not going directly to him, which itself would be highly unusual and outside the chain of command."

"The Acting Secretary of the Navy also charged CAPT Crozier with betraying the Navy and criticized the Sailors of the ROOSEVELT for cheering the Captain that tried to save lives on his ship at great personal cost," Gallego continued. "As a former enlisted Marine, I can attest to how demoralizing it is for senior leaders to belittle and minimize the real problems and challenges facing the everyday people in our armed forces. It is a hallmark of terrible leadership that I personally suffered under in Iraq in 2005. Not only does it crush the spirit of entire chain of command, it quite literally kills people."

"In making the comments that he made, on top of the nonsensical decision to relieve CAPT Crozier, Acting Secretary, Modly has humiliated himself and the Navy and revealed the true nature of the firing: spiteful ass covering," Gallego wrote.

Gallego believes that Acting Secretary Modly should no longer be allowed to resign. "President Trump or Secretary Esper should fire him.... Acting Secretary Modly has personally and spectacularly disqualified himself as an effective leader of the US Navy. Whenever he goes, his departure from public life will be welcomed by honorable Sailors and Marines everywhere, including this one."

Trump said of Crozier's firing, "I thought it was terrible what he did, to write a letter. This isn't a class on literature. This is a captain of a massive ship that's nuclear-powered," the president said. "The letter was a five-page letter from a captain, and the letter was all over the place. That's not appropriate. I don't think that's appropriate."