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Acting Navy secretary quits after he ripped captain pleading for help over coronavirus

WASHINGTON — The Navy’s top civilian has resigned after he criticized an aircraft carrier captain who pleaded for help with a coronavirus outbreak on his ship, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The latest revelation comes hours after acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly apologized after ridiculing U.S. Navy captain Brett Crozier whose letter pleading for help amid a coronavirus outbreak on a U.S. warship was leaked.

“Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid,” wrote Modly in a statement on Monday. “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 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,” he added.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The apology was issued on the heels of a surprise speech Modly made aboard the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt.

“If he didn’t think that information was going to get out into the public in this information age that we live in, then he was, A, too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly told the crew over a loudspeaker. 

“The alternative is that he did it on purpose,” he said, adding that he stood by his decision to relieve Crozier of his command.

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Read more: Navy relieves captain of duty after he pleaded for help with coronavirus outbreak on aircraft carrier

Last week, Modly told reporters at the Pentagon that he had lost confidence in Crozier and that the letter “raised alarm bells unnecessarily.”

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly briefs the press about the Navy’s response to COVID-19, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., April 1, 2020.

Lisa Ferdinando | Department of Defense

On Monday, President Donald Trump said he may get involved in the messy tit-for-tat between Modly and Crozier, when asked about the saga revolving around the captain’s stunning plea for help.

“Look the letters shouldn’t have been sent and certainly, they shouldn’t have been leaked,” Trump said, adding that the letter showed “weakness” within the U.S. Navy.

“It was weak, we don’t want weak,” he added, saying that he wanted to get involved in the matter because he was pleased with Crozier’s military career.

“I looked at his record and he’s been an outstanding person,” Trump said. “I’m going to be getting involved and see exactly what is going on there because I don’t want to destroy someone for having a bad day.”

In a four-page letter, first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, Crozier described a worsening coronavirus outbreak aboard the warship, a temporary home to more than 4,000 crew members. More than 100 people on the ship were infected.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors,” Crozier wrote. “The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.”

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Some 173 crew have tested positive so far, possibly including Crozier himself.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.


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