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Navy delays possible reinstatement of captain who raised coronavirus concerns, wants deeper probe

Capt. Brett Crozier was relieved of his command of the USS Roosevelt after the leak of a letter to Navy leadership detailing his concerns about a coronavirus outbreak on the ship.
Captain Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, speaks at sea
Capt. Brett Crozier addresses the crew of the Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2019.US Navy via Reuters file

The U.S. Navy's top civilian leader said he is calling for a deeper investigation into the circumstances around the firing of Capt. Brett Crozier, who was relieved of his command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after the leak of a letter he sent detailing concerns about a coronavirus outbreak on the ship.

Top officials with the Navy last week recommended Crozier be reinstated, but Acting Navy Secretary James E. McPherson said that after reviewing the events and speaking with Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of Naval Operations, he still had questions.

"Therefore, I am directing Adm. Gilday to conduct a follow-on command investigation," McPherson said in a statement. "This investigation will build on the good work of the initial inquiry to provide a more fulsome understanding of the sequence of events, actions, and decisions of the chain of command surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt."

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he had spoken with McPherson about expanding the investigation and that, while he agrees with broadening the overall inquiry, he believes the personnel issue has been answered.

“I personally think that Capt. Crozier should be reinstated,” Smith said.

Smith said he is deeply concerned that pressure from the White House has affected decision-making. "I'm not saying the president has weighed in and exercised any undue influence" or told military leadership what to do about the USS Theodore Roosevelt and Crozier, Smith explained. But he said President Trump has made it clear that he prioritizes people who have “a willingness to kiss the president's ass as often as possible.”

Crozier was relieved of his command on April 2 after a letter he sent to Navy leadership about the spread of the coronavirus on the aircraft carrier, with its crew of nearly 5,000, was leaked, sparking national headlines.

Crozier was allowed to keep his rank and remain in the Navy. The carrier has been docked in Guam since March 27 as the Navy has tested and isolated crewmembers.

The then-acting Navy secretary, Thomas Modly, said this month that Crozier had been removed because he sent the letter over "nonsecure unclassified email" to a "broad array of people" rather than up the chain of command.

"I have no doubt in my mind that Capt. Crozier did what he thought was in the best interest of the safety and well-being of his crew," Modly said. "Unfortunately, it did the opposite. It unnecessarily raised the alarm of the families of our sailors and Marines with no plans to address those concerns."

Modly later resigned after he ridiculed and then apologized to Crozier.

"I do think it's perfectly legitimate to extend the investigation about everything that happened with the Roosevelt," including how various people in the chain of command responded and what happened when the ship arrived in Guam, said Smith. "However, on the question of whether or not Capt. Crozier is the right person to continue command, I believe that question should have been clearly answered to this point."