Defense secretary says he supports decision to fire USS Theodore Roosevelt officer

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is interviewed on "This Week."
8:12 | 04/05/20

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Transcript for Defense secretary says he supports decision to fire USS Theodore Roosevelt officer
There you see captain Brett crozier being cheered by his sailors of "Uss Theodore Roosevelt." After being relieved by his commanders for sending a letter warning about the situation. We're joined by one of those superiors, defense secretary mark Esper. Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us this morning. Thank you, George. Good morning. You know, we just heard from former vice president Biden saying the treatment of captain crozier is close to criminal. He was removed before an investigation, is that appropriate? George, before I answer your question, let me step back and say something about the broader issue we have facing us, the coronavirus, from the beginning, going back to January, dod has been all-in in terms of helping the American people and protecting our people. We have been ahead of the curve. I have laid out three priorities for our commander and all of dod. First, protect our people. Second, ensure we retain our national mission capabilities and three, support the president's part of whole of government response. I'm proud of the Americans in the military today helping their fellow Americans, many of our service members deployed from home, many risking their well-being. I'm very proud of them. With regard to your question about the captain of the "Teddy look, secretary modly made a tough decision, tough call, I have full faith and confidence in him and the Navy leadership and I support their decision. And the president said you were involved in that decision as well. David ignatius is reporting this morning the president wanted captain crozier fired, is that true? This was secretary modly's call. He came and briefed me the night before the morning of, he sat down and talked to me, I recommendations, it was the secretary modly's call and I told him I would support it. Did the military leaders agree with secretary modally? I'm not going to comment on our private conversations. You can talk to them separately. It's an issue of trust and confidence in the captain of the ship. So what happens to captain now? Well, George, I can't talk too much about it because I'm in the chain of command, there's an investigation ongoinand it may fall on my desk at some point in time. But I'd like to talk about this global pandemic facing the country, maybe the greatest since 1918, and tell you how dod is weighing in and helping the American people. I do want to ask about that and I know the president said the medical personnel have been sent to New York, what exactly are they going to be doing and is the Pentagon now prepared to allow covid-19 patients, suffering from covid-19 to be treated on the "Comfort" in new York. Sure, we have personnel deployed across the country. Seattle and Dallas and elsewhere. In New York alone, we have over thousand -- we'll be sending up over 1,000 medical professionals today, tomorrow and the next day, and a late change as of yesterday, we decided a few hundred of those would be deployed in New York City hospitals to augment the hospitals there. So what you'll find is that the javits center will become a 2500-bed hospital. The largest hospital in the United States run by the united States military. We're all in on this, ahead of need. With regard of comfort and mercy, we sent those ships up a several days. They also arrived ahead of need. We prepared to open them up to covid-19 patients as necessary. I have delegated that authority to the norcom commander who's responsible for the operations in the United States. We have been keeping those in reserve. Because we know this will move around the country. This virus will move around the country and these ships are a thousand-bed medical capacity that's deployable. That's mobile. But, again, if the virus gets so bad in New York City and L.A., we'll be prepared to open them up to coronavirus patients. We don't want trauma patients to become coronavirus patients as well. That's a real concern. Have you sent out all the respirators you have? Many of those are deployed with our hospital ships, field hospitals we sent to New York, Seattle and elsewhere, we have pre-positioned several hundred outside of New York and we have others that we're prepared to ship wherever we're told to ship them. You said at top of this interview that the Pentagon has been ahead of the curve every day, in January, did Pentagon receive an intelligence assessment on covid-19 in China last December? I can't recall, George, but, we have many people who watch this closely. We have the premier infectious disease research institute within the United States army, our people who work these issues directly watch this all the time. As you know, the first patient in the united States was discovered in late January, we activated our global pandemic response plans on 1 February. I issued guidance to the force on 3 February. We didn't see our first casualty until 29 February. We were ahead of this in opening the stockpile to the rest of the government. But that's in January because you reportedly this assessment was done in November and it was briefed to the nsc in early December to assess the impact on military readiness, which would make it important to you and the possible spread in the United States, so you would have known if there was briefed to the national security council -- I'm not aware of that. Again, our folks work this all the time. We have a global pandemic response plan that I initiated on February the 1st. That's why we have stockpiles of strategic supplies, whether it's masks gowns, ppes. We have to be prepared for war fighting environment that we may be operating in. We're ready to support the whole of government. And the real question, one of things you're most focused on is the impact of covid-19 on the readiness of the U.S. Military right now, some 1200 service members have been infected, I assume that number could go up, and now one of your aircraft carriers out in Guam, how concerned are you about its impact on readiness? We watch it very closely. You're right, we don't have large numbers right now reporting being infected by the virus. Of those are, 35 thank goodness are hospitalized. None of our members have died. But out of a force of 2 million we're in pretty good shape right now but we have taken intensive measures. I have issued four sets of guidance going back to 3 February, to protect our force, we have done a lot of social media, I have done town halls to make sure we're taking very good care of our service members, civilians and their families. Do you expect all of those service members and civilians now to follow the CDC guidance of wearing face coverings, face masks and will you? We'll have a directive coming out on that today. We have to take every measure to protect our troops. We want to protect our national security missions. To do that we can't always do six feet distancing whether you're in a submarine, a bomber, in a tank, so we have to take other measures. I trust the commanders and our seniors to do that. We'll provide the guidance they need to adjust it. But we should expect more wideread use of masks inside the Pentagon and with service members? We're going to move toward face coverings. Secretary Esper, thank you for your time this morning. Thank you, George.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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