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Acting Navy Boss Quits Amid Uproar Over Coronavirus Controversy

April 8, 2020 by Dan McCue
FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2019, file photo, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly testifies during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee about about ongoing reports of substandard housing conditions in Washington, on Capitol Hill. Modly says the captain of the COVID-stricken aircraft carrier who was fired last week had betrayed his service and may have been “too naive or too stupid” to be commanding officer of the ship. Officials are confirming that Modly made the comments Sunday, April 5, 2020, to the ship's crew in Guam. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON – Bowing to increasing pressure, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly resigned Tuesday, following his profanity-laced tirade against the fired captain of the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Modly’s abrupt exit came shortly after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined the mounting chorus calling for his firing, citing his poor handling of the coronavirus-related public health crisis aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.

“Sadly, Acting Secretary Modly’s actions and words demonstrate his failure to prioritize the protection of our troops,” the Speaker said. “He showed a serious lack of the sound judgment and strong leadership needed during this time.”

In light of this, she said Modly “must be removed from his position or resign.”

Modly had apologized late Monday for profanity-laced comments he made to the aircraft carrier’s crew in Guam days after firing the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier.

But Modly’s apology did little to dampen the firestorm he created.

During his remarks, Modly said Crozier was either an idiot or naive and deserved to be fired for writing a letter that was destined to leak.

Crozier had expressed alarm about the service’s mishandling of the health crisis aboard the vessel in a March 30 letter to Navy higher-ups that subsequently leaked to the media.

On Tuesday, Pelosi defended Crozier, saying he was simply carrying out his duties when he called for help “for the men and women in his charge.”

Crozier’s former sailors — 172 of whom have tested positive for the coronavirus — were outraged by Modly’s remarks and quickly leaked them to the public.

In his apology, Modly said he regretted any pain the remarks may have caused, but insisted he was right to fire the captain, claiming he should have known his letter could become public, risking public disclosure of the chaos unfolding aboard the carrier.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said in a statement that “Acting Secretary Modly’s decision to address the sailors on the Roosevelt and personally attack Captain Crozier shows a tone-deaf approach more focused on personal ego than one of the calm, steady leadership we so desperately need in this crisis,” the representative said in a statement.

“I no longer have confidence in Acting Secretary Modly’s leadership of the Navy and believe he should be removed from his position,” he added.

Also calling for Modly’s removal were Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., herself a Navy veteran, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich.

Modly’s designated replacement will be James McPherson, a Navy veteran who is currently serving as undersecretary of the Army. He was confirmed in that position by the Senate last month. Prior to that he was the Army’s general counsel.

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