President Trump on Monday said he would get involved with the Navy’s firing of Capt. Brett Crozier, the former commander of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt who was fired after sending a memo about a coronavirus outbreak aboard the ship that promptly leaked to the media.
“The letter shouldn’t have been sent. And certainly they shouldn’t have been leaked. This is a military operation,” Trump said. He went on:
That was a mistake that shouldn’t have been made, because it’s unfair to the families of the people on the ship because they get nervous, and it shows weakness. We don’t want to have letter-writing campaigns where the fake news finds a letter or gets a leak, we don’t want that.
So the letter shouldn’t have been sent. With all of that said, his career prior to that was very good. So I’m going to get involved, and see exactly what’s going on there, because I don’t want to destroy somebody for having a bad day.
Earlier Monday, Modly’s remarks to crew members of the ship were leaked. In the remarks, he suggested that Crozier purposely sent a memo about a coronavirus outbreak on his ship that was meant to be leaked to the media. He said:
If he didn’t think, in my opinion, that this information wasn’t going to get out into the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either A, too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this. The alternative is that he did this on purpose.
Modly fired Crozier on Thursday after a memo the captain wrote on Monday, March 30, was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday, March 31. Navy officials have noted that the Chronicle is Crozier’s hometown paper.
Crozier’s memo had urged Navy leaders to get sailors off the Roosevelt faster and said living conditions on and off the ship in Guam — where it is currently docked — were not in line with Centers for Disease Control and Navy guidelines for social distancing and quarantining.
Modly said he did not fire Crozier because of the content of his memo, but for sending it via an unsecured and unclassified system to more than 20 people, including some outside the chain of command, ensuring its leak.
After videos emerged showing crew members cheering Crozier as he walked off the ship, Trump’s critics have tried to tie the president to the firing despite Modly saying he did not communicate with the White House before ing making the decision.
Trump on Saturday said he agreed with Modly’s decision “one hundred percent.”
On Monday he said:
I’m going to look into it. I also think our Navy Secretary is a highly respected man… . When he sends a letter out, and he sends copies all over the place, and it’s not a classified letter, and it was very disconcerting to the families of the sailors on the ship, very disconcerting, they get worried and scared.
It was weak. We don’t want weak. But I’m going to take a look because it looks to me that he was an outstanding guy…I looked at his file, and people have bad days and will take a look at it.
Trump said he would speak to Modly and Defense Secretary Mark Esper:
Maybe I can help the situation out. I like to solve problems, it’s a problem…he did a bad thing, sending a letter out and many, many copies — I don’t know, I heard 28 copies, I heard a lot, that’s a lot of copies. Plus the letter was five pages long, I haven’t read the letter but I think it was five pages long single-spaced.
That’s a lot of writing. You know, he’s a captain of a ship, he’s a very important person of a very expensive ship. A nuclear powered ship. He shouldn’t be sending letters like that. But it happens. Sometimes I’ll write a letter and say, ‘I wish I didn’t send it.’ Not too often, but it happens.
“I’m going to see maybe we can do something, because I’m not looking to destroy a person’s life who’s had an otherwise stellar career,” he added.