Defense Secretary Mark Esper is deciding whether to take the Navy’s recommendation to reinstate Navy Capt. Brett Crozier as the commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt — the aircraft carrier that was sidelined in Guam with a coronavirus outbreak — after the service concluded its investigation into his actions on Friday.
“This afternoon, Secretary Esper received a verbal update from the acting Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations on the Navy’s preliminary inquiry into the COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt,” said Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Rath Hoffman in a statement on Friday.
“After the Secretary receives a written copy of the completed inquiry, he intends to thoroughly review the report and will meet again with Navy leadership to discuss next steps. He remains focused on and committed to restoring the full health of the crew and getting the ship at sea again soon,” he added.
A senior defense official emphasized to Breitbart News that Esper wanted to read the Navy’s full investigative report before making any decision. The official said:
The Navy’s inquiry covered a complex timeline of communications between Naval officers, as well as response efforts spanning a dozen time zones and multiple commands. All this information was briefed verbally today in a meeting scheduled for one hour. Given the importance of the topic and the complex nature, the Secretary is going to read the full written report.
Although many in the media are focused on one aspect of the initial inquiry – it is in fact about far more than one person. The Secretary wants to ensure that the report is thorough and can stand up under the rightful scrutiny of Congress, the media, the families and crew of the Theodore Roosevelt, and the American people. To ensure that, he wants to actually read the report.
Then-Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly fired Crozier after he wrote an alarming memo on March 30 pleading for Navy leaders to get sailors off the ship faster, which was leaked to his hometown newspaper the next day.
Modly emphasized that he fired Crozier not for writing the memo, but for sending it via an unsecured and unclassified system to a group of people — including some outside his chain of command, ensuring its leak. He and other Pentagon leaders also expressed concern over the memo exposing the vulnerability of a major military asset in the Indo-Pacific region and panicking families back home.
Modly had also said Crozier chose not to contact him directly, despite Crozier being given that option, and that Crozier had not communicated his concerns to his direct superior, who lived just feet away from Crozier on the ship, before sending his email.
However, after video emerged of a departing Crozier being cheered by his crew members, the fired commander became a cause célèbre for the left, which has been eager to paint the Trump administration’s response efforts to the coronavirus as slow and inadequate.
Modly then flew to Guam to explain his decision to crew members in a speech that criticized Crozier and was promptly leaked to the press. Modly apologized and later resigned.
When asked about the matter, Trump said Crozier was wrong for writing and leaking his memo. “He didn’t have to be Ernest Hemingway,” he said at one press conference. However, he also said he would look into the circumstances of what happened and that he had heard good things about both Modly and Crozier.
Democrats have defended Crozier. Immediately after his firing, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) and other top committee Democrats said Crozier had “clearly” gone outside his chain of command and had not handled the pressure well, but his firing before an investigation was premature.
After Modly’s speech to the crew criticizing Crozier, Smith called for Modly to resign and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) joined him hours later. On Friday, after the New York Times reported the Navy’s recommendation, Smith called for Crozier to be reinstated.
“The Secretary of Defense needs to reinstate Captain Brett Crozier as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt. While Captain Crozier’s actions at the outset of the health crisis aboard the TR were drastic and imperfect, it is clear he only took such steps to protect his crew,” Smith said.
“Not only did Captain Crozier have the full support of his crew, he also attempted to work within his chain of command. During this time of crisis, Captain Crozier is exactly what our Sailors need: a leader who inspires confidence,” he said.
As of Friday, 100 percent of the approximately 5,000 crew members had been tested for coronavirus, with 856 total positive and 4,098 negative results, and a small number of test results pending. Four sailors were in the hospital being treated for symptoms, with none in intensive care. So far, one sailor has died.