The acting secretary of the Navy is apologizing for his tough words to the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, where he blasted their former captain as "either too naive or too stupid to command a ship" over his distribution of a letter, later leaked to the press, that requested stronger measures from the Navy to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus among his crew.
The apology comes after acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly had issued a statement earlier on Monday standing by his controversial comments to the crew after an audio recording and transcript of his remarks on the carrier became public.
“I want to apologize to the Navy for my recent comments to the crew of the TR," Modly said in the statement issued late Monday. "Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naive nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite."
"We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care," he said. "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."
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The apology follows an earlier statement where Modly said his words to the crew of the Roosevelt were "spoken from the heart and meant for them."
"I stand by every word I said, even, regrettably any profanity that may have been used for emphasis"he said in the earlier statement. "Anyone who has served on a Navy ship would understand. I ask, but don't expect, that people read them in their entirety."
His apology also came after a White House briefing Monday where President Donald Trump said he was "going to get involved" and look into the incident involving Crozier and his future status.
"I don't want to destroy somebody for having a bad day," said Trump.
The president said he would call Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Modly for details about Crozier's status, noting he was "an outstanding person" who has had a "very exemplary military career."
Trump reaffirmed that Crozier's sending the letter "was a mistake, he should have gone through his chain of command" but added "I'm not looking to destroy a person's life."
"If I can help two good people I'm going to help them," said Trump.
Earlier on Monday, the online news site, The Daily Caller published a transcript of Modly's remarks to the crew of the carrier that was broadcast over its internal loudspeaker system.
Later in the day, Task and Purpose, an online military news site, posted an audio recording of what appeared to be a voice similar to Modly's speaking over a public address system that matched the transcript in its content.
According to the transcript and the recording, Modly described Crozier as being " either too naive or too stupid to command a ship like this" for not anticipating that the letter could get leaked since it was sent to so many people outside of his chain of command.
"The alternative is that he did this on purpose," Modly said of the letter's publication in the San Francisco Examiner which would be a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
More than once he labeled the letter as "a betrayal" because the Navy's internal deliberations had been made public and diminished the Navy's early actions to address the quarantine housing and social distancing that Crozier had requested.
Modly also referenced the rousing farewell that the crew gave Crozier as he walked off the ship and that was captured on videos posted on social media.
"I understand that you may be angry with me for the rest of your lives. I guarantee that you won't be alone," Modly said.
"Being angry is not your duty," he told the crew. "Your duty is to each other, to this ship, and to the nation that built it for you to protect them."
Modly then told the ship's crew to never take any concerns to the press.
"I'm going to tell you something, all of you, there is no -- no -- situation where you go to the media," he said. "Because the media has an agenda. And the agenda that they have depends on which side of the political aisle they sit, and I'm sorry that's the way the country is right now, but it's the truth. And so they use it to divide us and use it to embarrass the Navy. They use it to embarrass you."
Democrats on Capitol Hill labeled Modly's comments to the Roosevelt crew as inappropriate and some, including the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said they warranted his ouster.
"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," said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.
"I no longer have confidence in acting Secretary Modly's leadership of the Navy and believe he should be removed from his position," the committee chairman added.
Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., herself a former Navy commander, also suggested that Esper should fire Modly.
"Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly's remarks to the crew show that he is in no way fit to lead our Navy through this trying time," Luria said in a statement. "Secretary Esper should immediately fire him."
In an appearance on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, Esper said he supported Modly's decision to relieve Crozier from his command.
The number of USS Theodore Roosevelt sailors testing positive for the coronavirus is now 173, according to new Navy figures released Monday, with 6% of the ship's crew of 4,800 having been tested.
The Navy was moving 2,700 crewmembers off the carrier and into quarantine facilities on Guam, including some empty hotels on the island. So far, 1,999 sailors have been taken off the ship.