Brett Crozier: Sacked captain of USS Theodore Roosevelt tests positive for coronavirus amidst outrage against firing

Brett Crozier: Sacked captain of USS Theodore Roosevelt tests positive for coronavirus amidst outrage against firing
Donald Trump and Brett Crozier (Getty Images/Wikimedia Commons)

Captain Brett Crozier, the former captain of aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt who was sacked after his warning letter of a coronavirus outbreak on board got leaked to the media, has also tested positive for COVID-19.

The diagnosis was confirmed to The New York Times by two of Cozier’s close mates from the Naval Academy. They told the outlet that Crozier, 50, started exhibiting symptoms of the disease before his dismissal by acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly on April 2. The veteran Navy official has been reassigned to the Naval Air Forces Pacific command in San Diego, as a Navy spokesperson told the Times, but he has to complete serving a quarantine first. Crozier’s removal sparked controversy as a report claimed the top military commander and the most senior naval officer were against his removal but they were overruled by the decision of President Donald Trump.

Admiral Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, and General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believed the Navy should have approved a probe into the letter penned by Crozier.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper was in favor of the officers to begin with, according to a report in The Washington Post, but eventually could not prevail over Modly who favored Crozier’s ouster for he believed President Trump wanted the same. 

Crozier, who has been in service since the early 1990s, was sacked four days after he wrote his sharply critical letter to the Navy leadership seeking action over the coronavirus outbreak on board. He said the sailors were in danger since social distancing was not feasible enough onboard a vessel. The former captain of the ship that was docked at a port in Guam believed to have sent the letter to many people knowing that it could be leaked to the media. 

The fears turned out to be true as Modly reportedly told his colleagues that Trump wanted him ousted. People like Gilday and many others thought that it would be best for the military to handle the situation and there was no need for the civilian leadership to interfere. But it did not work out in that manner as Esper reportedly gave in before Modly. 

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (Getty Images)

On Sunday, April 5, Esper defended Modly’s call to remove Crozier, who meanwhile garnered much sympathy from former sailors and the common people who believe he was treated unjustly for sending out a distress call to save his sailors’ health. 

“I think acting Secretary Modly made a very tough decision - a decision that I support,” Esper told CNN on Sunday. “It was based on his view that he had lost faith and confidence in the captain based on his actions. It’s just another example (of) how we hold leaders accountable for their actions.”

When asked if the Trump administration removed Crozier too early without allowing the military to complete its investigation, Esper said it was not unprecedented to see the Navy firing a senior officer before the completion of an internal probe. “All the services at times relieve commanders without the benefit of an investigation up front because they have lost confidence in them,” Esper, who took over last July from Jim Mattis, said, adding: “It’s certainly not unique to the Navy The Navy has a culture of swiftly and decisively removing captains if they lose confidence in them.”

Trump accuses Crozier of allowing sailors to get infected

On Saturday, April 4, Trump said during a coronavirus briefing that Crozier’s four-page letter was “inappropriate” and not a “class on literature”. He objected to the fact that the letter became public, saying: “He wrote a letter. A five-page letter from a captain. And the letter was all over the place. That's not appropriate, I don't think that's appropriate. It looked terrible what he did. To write a letter. I mean this isn't a class on literature. This is the captain of a massive ship … he shouldn't be talking that way in a letter.”

USS Theodore Roosevelt (Getty Images)

The commander-in-chief even hit out at the sacked captain saying the latter allowed the sailors to get infected in the first place. He said he should not have allowed them to get into Vietnam where the warship made a stop early March. Vietnam though is one of the most successful countries to fight the pandemic with 241 positive cases but no death yet
At the same time as the stop-off, Trump himself was dismissing the severity of the global outbreak and believed it would not pose a massive threat to Americans.

Modly and other members of the Trump administration, however, were left to defend themselves after videos surfaced showing Crozier being given a loud farewell by his crew who chanted his name as he walked away from the ship. Modly also said while criticizing Crozier’s act that the latter had an “absolutely incredible” career of which he is envious and the removal is not an indictment of his entire career. 

'Close to criminal', Biden slams Crozier's removal

Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden slammed the decision to remove Crozier. On Sunday, he described the administration’s decision “close to criminal”.

"The idea that this man stood up and he said what had to be said, got it out that ... his Navy personnel were in danger ... I think the guy, he should have a commendation rather than be fired,” Biden told ABC News in an interview.

A group of Democratic senators have also called on the Pentagon's independent Inspector General to investigate the dismissal. 

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