This post has been updated to include additional statements from Rep Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Rep. Joe Courtney ((D-Conn.) and a statement from acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly.
The Navy is going to extend an investigation into the circumstances around a leaked message from the commander of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) to service leadership sounding the alarm his sailors were at risk from an “accelerating” COVID-19 outbreak on the aircraft carrier.
The probe into decisions made by Capt. Brett Crozier, originally set to wrap up today, was to “consider command climate and circumstances surrounding the response, including communication throughout the administrative and operational chains of command,” the service said last week.
Now, the service is set to take a few more days to wrap up the investigation, according to a statement provided to USNI News.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, “has approved an extension of the Navy’s preliminary inquiry into the events surrounding the disembarkation of [Roosevelt] sailors in response to a COVID-19 outbreak,” the service said in a statement.
“This extension will allow additional time to gather facts and refine the inquiry’s recommendations. The inquiry remains in progress and is expected to be completed soon. It will take additional time for the inquiry’s recommendations to be reviewed and endorsed by Adm. Gilday.”
Crozier wrote the letter which stated sailors were at risk of succumbing to the virus unless the service stepped up testing and isolation procedures on Guam.
“If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset – our sailors,” he wrote in the letter that was leaked to The San Francisco Chronicle. Crozier was removed from his command on April 2 on orders from acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly for, “extremely poor judgment.”
The extension of the investigation comes as Modly has come under fire for a speech he made during a surprise visit to Roosevelt, currently in Guam. In remarks to sailors aboard, Modly said that Crozier may have committed a crime if he sent the letter out with the intent to be leaked. On the other hand, if Crozier didn’t think his message would get out Crozier was “too naïve or stupid” to command the carrier, Modly said according to a recording of the speech reviewed by USNI News.
In a subsequent Monday statement to USNI News, Modly apologized to Crozier and the crew for parts of his remarks.
“I want to apologize to the Navy for my recent comments to the crew of the TR. Let me be clear, I do not think Capt. Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite. We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care,” the statement read. “Capt. 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. I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused.”
On Monday evening, President Donald Trump was asked about Monday’s speech on Roosevelt said that he had heard good things about Crozier and Modly.
“I may just get involved… You have two good people and they’re arguing. I’m good, believe it or not, at settling arguments,” Trump told reporters
“I may look into it in detail and I will be able to figure it out very fast.”
Previously, Trump had admonished Crozier for sending the memo.
“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,” Trump said on Saturday.
“The letter was all over the place. That’s not appropriate. I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
During the same press conference characterized Modly’s speech as, “a rough statement.”
On Monday night, Democratic leaders in the House Armed Services Committee called on Modly to resign for the comments the secretary made in his speech and his overall handling of the outbreak on Roosevelt.
“I disagree strongly with the manner in which acting Secretary of the Navy Modly has handled the COVID-19 outbreak on USS Theodore Roosevelt. His decision to relieve Capt. Crozier was at best an overreaction to the extraordinary steps the [Crozier] took to protect his crew,” wrote HASC chairman Rep Adam Smith (D-Wash.) in a statement.
“I no longer have confidence in Acting Secretary Modly’s leadership of the Navy and believe he should be removed from his position.”
In a seperate statement, House Armed Services seapower and projection forces chairman, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) also called for Modly’s removal.
“At this critical time, the men and women of our Navy need to know their leadership is laser-focused on ensuring their wellbeing, and giving them the support they need to accomplish their mission,” Courtney said.
“Flying halfway across the world to publicly insult Capt. Crozier, a highly decorated and respected officer who has already taken a hit for doing what he thought was right for the crew, does nothing to make our Navy safer or stronger. Unfortunately, after what I have seen play out over the past week, Mr. Modly has lost my confidence to lead the Navy and its men and women at this challenging time. I believe it’s time for him to step aside.”
As of Monday, 61 percent of Roosevelt’s crew have been tested for COVID-19, “with 173 positive cases so far,” reported the Navy.
“Additionally, 1,999 Sailors have moved ashore. As testing continues, the ship will keep enough sailors on board to sustain essential services.”
The following is the complete April 6, 2020 statement from acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly.
I want to apologize to the Navy for my recent comments to the crew of the TR. Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite. We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care. Captain 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. I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused. 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. They, and the entire Navy, have my full commitment that I will continue to help get the TR back to full health and back to sea where we can move forward beyond this unfortunate situation.