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Acting Navy secretary apologizes for calling former captain of aircraft carrier with coronavirus outbreak "naive," "stupid"

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly apologized Monday for criticizing the ousted captain of an aircraft carrier dealing with a coronavirus outbreak. Modly was recorded calling Captain Brett Crozier "naive" and "stupid" for his handling of a memo in which he pleaded for help for the ship's crew.

"I want to apologize to the Navy for my recent comments to the crew of the [USS Theodore Roosevelt]. Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite," Modly said in a statement Monday.

Crozier, the former commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, sent a four-page memo to more than 20 people on March 30 asking for most of the crew to be evacuated from the ship following a coronavirus outbreak. The ship has been docked in Guam for the last week, and as of Saturday, 155 sailors had tested positive and 1,500 of the 4,000 crew members had been evacuated.

Earlier Monday, multiple outlets published a recording of Modly criticizing Crozier over the ship's intercom. Over the intercom, Modly slammed Crozier for sending the memo, saying, "It was my opinion that 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 commanding officer of a ship like this."

"The alternate is that he did it on purpose," Modly continued. "And that's a serious violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which you are all familiar with."

Modly backtracked on those insults in his apology Monday.

"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," Modly said. "I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused. I also want to apologize directly to Captain Crozier, his family, and the entire crew of the Teddy Roosevelt for any pain my remarks may have caused."

Crozier was relieved of duty by Modly after the memo became public. Modly justified his decision by saying that Crozier went outside the chain of command by sending the letter. 

Videos showed sailors cheering for Crozier as he left the ship Friday following his ouster.

Modly's comments come just hours after President Trump said he would "get involved" in the dispute. Though he said he had not read Modly's exact comments, and he emphasized repeatedly that "the letter shouldn't have been sent," Mr. Trump added that "With all of that said, his career prior to that was very good. So I'm gonna get involved and see exactly what's going on there because I don't want to destroy somebody for having a bad day." 

David Martin and Stefan Becket contributed reporting.

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