Politics

Ex-acting Navy secretary's trip to bash captain who pleaded for help with coronavirus may cost taxpayers $243,000

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Key Points
  • Former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly's trip to Guam, during which he ridiculed a captain who sounded the alarm about a coronavirus outbreak on a U.S. warship, may cost taxpayers $243,000, NBC News reported.
  • Modly's 35-hour trip followed his decision to relieve USS Theodore Roosevelt Capt. Brett Crozier, whose letter pleading for help was leaked to the media.
Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly briefs the press about the Navy's response to COVID-19, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., April 1, 2020.
Lisa Ferdinando | Department of Defense

WASHINGTON — Former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly's trip to Guam, during which he ridiculed a captain who sounded the alarm about a coronavirus outbreak on a U.S. warship, may cost taxpayers $243,000, NBC News reported, citing a Navy official.

Modly's 35-hour trip on a Gulfstream 550 came on the heels of his decision to relieve USS Theodore Roosevelt Capt. Brett Crozier, whose letter pleading for help to mitigate the spread of the deadly virus aboard the aircraft carrier was leaked to the media.

The ship was forced to dock in Guam and at least 230 crewmembers tested positive for the disease. Audio of Modly's surprise address to the crew also was leaked, triggering calls for his resignation.

The Pentagon and the Office of the Navy did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

In the address, delivered via the ship's loudspeaker, Modly doubled down on his decision to relieve Crozier and called the former vessel's captain "naive" and "stupid." Hours later Modly issued an apology to the Navy.

"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 said in a statement Monday. 

A day later, Modly handed in his resignation to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Esper announced on Tuesday that he had tapped James McPherson, undersecretary of the Army, to be the new acting Navy secretary.

"He resigned on his own accord, putting the Navy and the sailors above self so that the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and the Navy as an institution, can move forward," Esper said. "I have the deepest respect for anyone who serves our country, and who places the greater good above all else. Secretary Modly did that today, and I wish him all the best."

When asked Thursday during a Pentagon press briefing who approved Modly's trip to Guam, Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist explained that as a senior leader "Modly would have the authority to travel as needed to see the mission."

"I think we want to be very careful about signaling to people that senior leaders shouldn't be getting out in the field and seeing what's going on. I think that it is very difficult if you are all the time in the Pentagon," Norquist added.