Acting Navy secretary: I swiftly fired the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s captain to avoid having Trump step in
"I didn't want to get into a decision where the president would feel that he had to intervene because the Navy couldn't be decisive"
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly says he quickly relieved Capt. Brett Crozier, former commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, of his command because he wanted to do so before President Donald Trump felt the need to intervene.
Modly shared details of Crozier's dismissal in an interview with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius on Sunday.
As a coronavirus outbreak threatened his ship, Crozier wrote a letter pleading for the Navy to take action to protect the lives of the sailors on board. The letter, which was sent over non-secure, unclassified email to numerous people, was leaked to the media and first published on Monday by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Modly announced on Thursday that he had “lost confidence” in Crozier's “ability to lead” and accused him of exercising “poor judgment,” not necessarily for writing the letter but for allowing distribution outside the chain of command.
Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday, along with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, had favored conducting an investigation, The Post reported on Sunday, but Modly chose to relieve the Roosevelt's captain immediately.
“I didn't want to get into a decision where the president would feel that he had to intervene because the Navy couldn't be decisive,” Modly told The Post.
“If I were president, and I saw a commanding officer of a ship exercising such poor judgment, I would be asking why the leadership of the Navy wasn't taking action itself,” he further explained.
Modly told The Post that former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer “lost his job because the Navy Department got crossways with the president” over former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, whose criminal trial became a source of tension between the Navy and Trump.
“I didn't want that to happen again,” Modly said.
“I put myself in the president's shoes,” he explained. “I considered how the president felt like he needed to get involved in Navy decisions. I didn't want that to happen again.”
The acting secretary revealed that he “had no discussions with anyone at the White House prior to making the decision,” but Modly reportedly told a colleague that Trump “wants him [Crozier] fired,” even though he never received a message directly indicating that to be the case.
The president expressed his displeasure with Crozier's letter during a White House press briefing on Saturday.
“I thought it was terrible what he did to write a letter,” Trump said. “I mean, this isn't a class on literature. This is a captain of a massive ship that's nuclear powered. And he shouldn't be talking that way in a letter.” He said he completely agreed with Modly's decision.
The acting secretary has said that the Navy had already been in contact with Crozier before he sent out his letter and was already taking steps to support the ship as it dealt with an unexpected crisis.
Modly told The Post that he suspected Crozier was “panicking” under the pressure of dealing with the coronavirus outbreak aboard his ship.
“I had serious doubts about how this CO might act if, for example, the ship came under attack by hypersonic missiles, or by cyber forces that crippled his communications, or by any other unpredictable event,” he explained to The Post.
“It's essential to love your crew, but it's not sufficient,” Modly added.
Crozier has reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus and is currently in quarantine in Guam, according to The New York Times. More than 150 other Roosevelt crew members have also tested positive.
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