Navy secretary apologizes for comments

SAN DIEGO - Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly apologized late Monday about comments he made to the crew of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt when he called the ship's former captain "too naive or too stupid" for command.


That led several Democratic lawmakers to call for his resignation or firing.


The San Diego-based aircraft carrier is in port in Guam battling an outbreak of COVID-19 among its crew. More than 170 sailors have tested positive for the virus, the Navy said Monday.


Its commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, recently wrote a letter to top Navy officials calling for evacuation of most of the more than 4,000 crew members on board, warning that more would get sick and some sailors might die. The letter leaked and became international news.


Last week, Modly removed Crozier from command. As Crozier left the ship, crowds of sailors cheered and chanted his name.


Monday morning, in a profane, meandering, 15-minute speech over the ship's 1MC public address system, Modly chastised the crew for cheering Crozier on his way out last week. Modly also blamed China for the novel coronavirus and lamented that Crozier's actions resulted in negative press coverage and controversy in Washington, D.C.


After audio of his address was made public Monday, Modly defended his comments in a statement: "The spoken words were from the heart, and meant them. I stand by every word I said, even, regrettably any profanity that may have been used for emphasis."


Several Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called for Modly to be fired.


"I no longer have confidence in Acting Secretary Modly's leadership of the Navy and believe he should be removed from his position," Smith said in a statement.


Late Monday, Modly wrote another statement, apologizing for what he told the crew.


"I want to apologize to the Navy for my recent comments to the crew of the TR," Modly said. "Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naive nor stupid. 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."


Modly also apologized to Crozier, his family and the crew for "any pain" his remarks caused.


President Donald Trump said he may get involved in the dispute Monday, saying he'd heard "good things" about Crozier and Modly.


"You have two good people and they're arguing," Trump said. "I'm good, believe it or not, at settling arguments."