Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly’s tenure at the Pentagon appears to be in question.
In the span of one day, the head of the Navy told the crew of the USS Teddy Roosevelt their fired captain was “stupid,” stood firmly behind his words, only to apologize to the Navy and to Capt. Brett Crozier and his family, just a few hours later.
Modly’s public humiliation was set after the Pentagon leadership refused to support him or his vindictive comments, which shocked rank and file sailors.
The day began when Modly unleashed an emotional, 15-minute diatribe over the aircraft carrier’s public address system lambasting not only former Capt. Brett Crozier — currently isolated after being stricken with Covid-19 — the ship’s crew, the press, and Joe Biden, while telling the sailors how difficult the situation was on him personally.
During his speech, some of the ship’s sailors could be heard loudly rejecting central points he made, the report said.
When Modly asserted that Crozier’s letter was demoralizing to some sailors, someone shouted: “No, we weren’t!” At another moment, a sailor can be heard yelling, “He was trying to help us!”
Later in the day, he issued a defiant statement after audio of his speech leaked, declaring, “I stand by every word I said.”
But after the top Pentagon spokesman declined to support him during an afternoon press conference, and negative public sentiment poured in, Modly reversed course:
“I want to apologize to the Navy for my recent comments to the crew of the TR. Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naive nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite,” Modly wrote.
“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 apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused. I also want to apologize directly to Captain Crozier, his family, and the entire crew of Theodore Roosevelt for any pain my remarks may have caused.
“They, and the entire Navy, have my full commitment that I will continue to help get the TR back to full health and back to sea where we can move forward beyond this unfortunate situation.”
That apology came after leading Democratic lawmakers, including members of both the Senate and House Armed Service Committee, called for his ouster.
HASC chief Rep. Adam Smith said Modly “showed a tone-deaf approach more focused on personal ego than one of the calm, steady leadership we so desperately need in this crisis,” and called for his firing.
Several other House Democrats, including Rep. Ted Lieu, Rep. Filemón Vela, Rep. Gil Cisneros, and Rep. Jason Crow, along with Independent Rep. Justin Amash called for Modly’s dismissal. Lieu and Vela are both members of the HASC.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Marine Corps veteran and Democrat, accused Modly of “spiteful ass covering” in firing the ship’s captain, adding, “Acting Secretary Modly should no longer be allowed to resign. President Trump or Secretary Esper should fire him.”
Modly’s firing of Capt. Brett Crozier came after he said he lost confidence in Crozier’s ability to lead after Crozier wrote a memo last week with Navy leadership to move quickly to help his crew as the virus moved through his crew, the report said.
There are currently 173 confirmed cases of coronavirus among the crew of about 5,000, with over 60% of the crew tested, the report said.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump announced he will look into the circumstances surrounding the firing of Crozier, saying he doesn’t believe the officer’s career should be at risk for “having a bad day.”
(Update at 3:30 pm EST: CNBC reports that Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly has resigned.)