Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly has resigned after calling captain ‘stupid.’ Here’s what we know.

WASHINGTON — Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned on Tuesday after his handling of the firing of an aircraft carrier captain who asked for help with a coronavirus outbreak was scrutinized. 

Modly came under fire and was called upon by Democratic lawmakers to resign after remarks made during his address to the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt were reported, revealing he had called former Capt. Brett Crozier “too naive or too stupid” to command the stricken aircraft carrier. 

The acting secretary later apologized, but his decision to fly to Guam to visit sailors and explain his decision in a profanity-laced speech proved to be his undoing.

Here’s a timeline of what happened, and what we know about the events leading to Modly’s resignation:

Week of March 24: First coronavirus cases detected on board

The Navy first reported on March 24 that three sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt had tested positive and been airlifted to a hospital in the Pacific. 

Cases of coronavirus multiplied rapidly and 15 more sailors tested positive a few days later, prompting testing for all of the approximately 5,000 sailors aboard, according to Navy and Defense officials. By March 26, as the ship docked in Guam for a scheduled visit, that number had jumped to 23 sailors. 

Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, said at the time the Roosevelt remained capable of its missions.

Earlier in March, the Roosevelt had stopped in Vietnam as the coronavirus outbreak was mounting but had not yet reached pandemic status. Navy officials have said they don’t know whether sailors contracted the virus there, but the possibility remains.

FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2019, file photo, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly testifies during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee about about ongoing reports of substandard housing conditions in Washington, on Capitol Hill.

March 30: Captain pleads with Navy to evacuate ship

A letter dated March 30 from Crozier, the ship’s captain, asked Navy officials to do more to address the “accelerating” coronavirus outbreak on the ship, which had afflicted dozens of sailors by that point.

Crozier said that “decisive action” was required to prevent deaths from the coronavirus, and that the sailors on board were currently unable to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines because of the ship’s close quarters.

‘Sailors do not need to die’:Captain of aircraft carrier asks U.S. Navy to evacuate crew amid COVID-19 outbreak

“Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure,” Crozier wrote. “Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”

Crozier asked that about 90% of the ship’s crew be taken ashore in Guam and isolated and 10% remain to operate the essential functions of the aircraft carrier.

March 31-April 1: Letter leaks, officials say they’re working on it

Crozier’s letter was first published by the San Francisco Chronicle March 31, and Navy officials were pressed to respond to concerns over the sailors’ safety. 

“I heard about the letter from Capt. Crozier this morning, I know that our command organization has been aware or this for about 24 hours and we have been working actually the last seven days to move those sailors off the ship and get them into accommodations in Guam,” Modly said, noting that bed space was an issue.

Outbreak escalates:Navy says it can’t empty Roosevelt amid coronavirus because of its weapons, nuclear reactor

As of midday on April 1, 93 crew members had tested positive for the virus, and 593 tested negative, according to Modly, but only 24% had been tested.

“We already have nearly 1,000 personnel off the ship right now. And in the next couple of days, we expect to have about 2,700 of them off the ship,” Modly said.

Modly and others expressed concern that Crozier’s letter had been leaked to the media and suggested there had been some sort of “communications breakdown.” 

“It’s disappointing to have him say” that the Navy was not taking care of its most trusted asset: the sailors, Modly said. “I know that’s not the truth.”

April 2: Navy fires Crozier over loss of confidence

Days after he pleaded for help, Crozier was relieved of his duty for loss of confidence, Modly announced.

“I just know that he exercised extremely poor judgment,” Modly said.

Democrats who lead the House Armed Services committee blasted Modly for firing Crozier. The lawmakers acknowledged Crozier improperly went outside the chain of command in releasing his letter, but they called his dismissal an overreaction. 

Senators demand probe of Navy’s COVID-19 response:It has ‘no idea how many potential hot spots it has’

The letter was sent out broadly via email on an insecure network and copied to “20 or 30 other people,” Modly said. Modly and other Navy officials had not seen it until it appeared in the paper. “He did not safeguard that information,” Modly said.

The letter created a degree of “panic” on the ship, according to Modly.

April 5: Modly disparages Crozier to crew, calls him ‘stupid’

Modly called Crozier “too naive or too stupid” to command the aircraft carrier stricken with COVID-19, in remarks to the Theodore Roosevelt’s crew on April 5. He asserted in his speech that Crozier might have violated military law by intentionally leaking sensitive military information.

Modly also berated the media, telling sailors that all journalists are biased and sought to embarrass them. 

In his first statement addressing the remarks after they were reported April 6, Modly said took responsibility but said he could not recall the details.

“The spoken words were 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.  Anyone who has served on a Navy ship would understand. I ask, but don’t expect, that people read them in their entirety.”

Modly’s speech immediately drew fire from Capitol Hill. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith called for Modly to be fired.

Last year, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and its escorts participated in Exercise Northern Edge, a major Army, Navy and Air Force exercise held in the Gulf of Alaska.

April 6: Modly apologizes and Trump weighs in

In a stunning reversal, Modly apologized to Crozier, his family and the Navy in a statement late Monday night. 

“Let me be clear, I do not think Capt. Brett Crozier is naive or stupid,” Modly said, according to the statement released by the Navy. “I think, and always believed him to be the opposite.”

Hours earlier, President Donald Trump waded into the controversy, saying at a White House briefing that he would “look into” Crozier’s case. Trump called the letter a “mistake” that had worried families and showed “weakness.” But he said Crozier has had a “very good” career.

After Trump spoke, the Navy announced that Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, had extended the deadline for its investigation into Crozier’s actions.

April 7: Modly resigns, Jim McPherson named as successor

Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Tuesday that Modly had offered his resignation. Esper accepted Modly’s resignation letter Tuesday morning and said it was voluntary on Modly’s part. 

“He resigned on his own accord, putting the Navy and sailors above self so that the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and the Navy as a whole, can move forward,” Esper said in a statement.

The Navy also reported on Tuesday 230 positive coronavirus cases among the crew of the Roosevelt after testing 79% of them. About 2,000 sailors have been moved to facilities on shore in Guam.

‘Putting the Navy and Sailors above self’:Acting Navy secretary is out after bungled firing of USS Theodore Roosevelt’s captain

Trump commented on Modly’s resignation at the White House briefing Tuesday, saying that he had “no role in it.”

“The whole thing was very unfortunate,” Trump said. “He didn’t have to resign but he did it for his country.”

Trump reiterated Tuesday that Crozier shouldn’t have written the letter. “He didn’t have to be Ernest Hemingway.”

Esper named Army Undersecretary Jim McPherson, a retired admiral, to succeed Modly as acting Navy secretary until a permanent secretary is confirmed by the Senate.

Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook

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