WASHINGTON — The Navy's top civilian issued an apology Monday night after ridiculing a captain whose letter pleading for help amid a coronavirus outbreak on a U.S. warship was leaked.
"Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid," wrote acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly in a statement. "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 also want to apologize directly to Captain Crozier, his family, and the entire crew of the Theodore Roosevelt for any pain my remarks may have caused," he added.
The latest revelation came hours after Modly made a surprise speech aboard the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier in Guam.
"If he didn't think that information was going to get out into the public in this information age that we live in, then he was, A, too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this," Modly told the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt over a loudspeaker.
"The alternative is that he did it on purpose," he said, adding that he stood by his decision to relieve Crozier of his command.
Last week, Modly told reporters at the Pentagon that he had lost confidence in Crozier and that the letter "raised alarm bells unnecessarily."
Earlier at the White House, President Donald Trump said he may get involved in the messy tit-for-tat between Modly and Crozier, when asked about the saga revolving around the captain's stunning plea for help.
"Look the letters shouldn't have been sent and certainly, they shouldn't have been leaked," Trump said, adding that the letter showed "weakness" within the U.S. Navy.
"It was weak, we don't want weak," he added, saying that he wanted to get involved in the matter because he was pleased with Crozier's military career.
"I looked at his record and he's been an outstanding person," Trump said. "I'm going to be getting involved and see exactly what is going on there because I don't want to destroy someone for having a bad day."
In a four-page letter, first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, Crozier described a worsening coronavirus outbreak aboard the warship, a temporary home to more than 4,000 crew members. More than 100 people on the ship were infected.
"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. "The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating."
Some 173 crew have tested positive so far, possibly including Crozier himself.
The coronavirus exposure aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is currently docked in Guam, follows a recently completed port call to Da Nang, Vietnam.
Fifteen days after leaving Vietnam, three sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt tested positive for the virus. The infections were the first reports of coronavirus on a U.S. Navy vessel at sea.
On March 24, Modly told reporters at the Pentagon that the trio of sailors and those who had been in contact with the individuals were identified and quarantined.
And while port calls for U.S. Navy ships have since been canceled, Modly defended the decision to complete the port call by saying that at the time, the coronavirus cases in Vietnam were less than 100.