Navy Secretary Resigns Over Carrier Remarks, Pentagon Names Replacement

April 7, 2020 Updated: April 7, 2020

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly submitted his resignation on Tuesday, according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said he accepted it and nominated Under Secretary of the Army James McPherson as his replacement.

Modly resigned after he made controversial remarks to the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt about their dismissed captain, Brett Crozier, whom he called “too stupid” and “too naive” in a speech, which was later leaked to the press, calling on the Navy to use stronger efforts to try and curb the spread of COVID-19 on the ship.

“This morning I accepted Secretary Modly’s resignation. He resigned on his own accord, putting the Navy and the Sailors above self so that the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, and the Navy, as an institution, can move forward,” Esper said in a statement on Tuesday in confirming the move.

Esper added that with President Donald Trump’s approval, McPherson would take over as the acting Navy Secretary.

In an email sent to Navy leadership, Crozier said he was concerned about there not being enough anti-COVID-19 measures for his crew on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which had dozens of cases of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus on board. Crozier later tested positive for the virus, according to reports.

“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 naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly allegedly told crew members on the ship, adding that “the alternative is that he did this on purpose.”

On Monday morning, Modly said in a statement that he stands by his comments but apologized later in the day. “Let me be clear: I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naive or stupid,” he said. “I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused.”

USS Theodore Roosevelt
The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) is seen while entering into the port in Da Nang, Vietnam, on March 5, 2020.(Reuters/Kham/File Photo)

In his letter, Crozier sought action from the Navy to remove most personnel from the carrier.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier wrote. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”

Trump on Monday said he doesn’t believe Crozier’s career should end over the letter, adding that he might “get involved.”