Modly told the crew that their former commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, was either “too naive or too stupid” to be in command or that he intentionally leaked to the media a memo in which he warned about coronavirus spreading aboard the aircraft carrier and urged action to save his sailors.
The acting secretary accused Crozier of committing a “betrayal” and creating a “big controversy” in Washington by disseminating the warning so widely.
“It was a betrayal. And I can tell you one other thing: because he did that he put it in the public’s forum and it is now a big controversy in Washington, DC,” Modly said, according to a transcript of remarks Modly made to the crew, copies of which have been provided to CNN by multiple Navy officials.
In remarks that were piped over the vessel’s PA system, Modly suggested Crozier leaked the memo on purpose or was “too naive or too stupid” to be in command if he didn’t think that sending it to over 20 people would not result in it getting out to the public.
“If he didn’t think, in my opinion, that this information wasn’t going to get out to the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either A, too naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly said. “The alternative is that he did this on purpose.”
Modly went on to say it was a “betrayal of trust, with me, with his chain of command.”
Crozier had written to Navy leadership to alert them to the challenges of trying to contain the disease aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and to urgently request sailors be allowed to quarantine off the ship.
“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 in a memo that three US defense officials confirmed to CNN.
When asked if Modly’s personal attack on Crozier was appropriate, a senior defense official said Monday, “I don’t know what to say.”
Modly’s use of the word “betrayal” is a loaded because saying an officer has betrayed the Navy is a court martial offense.
A defense official familiar with Modly’s remarks offered his opinion of Modly’s address, saying the acting secretary “should be fired. I don’t know how he survives this day.”
The Navy had set a goal of moving 2,700 sailors ashore in Guam by Friday evening and has fallen several days behind schedule.
Several senior military officials, including the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, recommended against Modly’s decision to fire Crozier before an investigation into the matter was complete and in the midst of an evacuation, two US officials tell CNN.
Crozier’s popularity with the ship’s crew was on display in videos showing sailors giving him a warm and loud send off, clapping and chanting his name as he left the ship for the final time. Modly acknowledged Crozier’s popularity with the crew in his remarks to the sailors. “I cannot control or attempt to change whatever anger you have with me for relieving your beloved CO,” Modly said, using the slang for commanding officer. “I understand you may be angry with me for the rest of your lives.”
This story is breaking and will be updated.