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In remarks made to the remaining sailors aboard the ship, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly slammed the now-ousted captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt as "too naïve or too stupid" to be a commanding officer, multiple sources confirmed to Fox News.
Modly fired Capt. Brett Crozier last week for sounding the alarm about the need to offload the sailors onboard the USS Roosevelt due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Crozier, 50, had authored a letter warning that an outbreak of the sometimes-deadly virus had created a dire situation on the carrier. The letter ended up in the hands of a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, who first reported its contents last week.
"If he didn’t think, in my opinion, that this information wasn’t going to get out into the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either A, too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this," Modly said of Crozier. "The alternative is that he did this on purpose."
“Think about that when you cheer the man of the ship who exposed you to that...I understand you love the guy. It’s good that you love him. But you’re not required to love him,” Modly said, adding the letter penned by Crozier had “sensitive information" regarding the condition of the aircraft carrier.
In a fiery address broadcast over the ship’s PA system, Modly warned sailors against disclosing information to the media, saying Crozier’s letter was a "betrayal of trust, with me, with his chain of command."
"It was a betrayal. And I can tell you one other thing: because he did that he put it in the public's forum and it is now a big controversy in Washington, D.C.," he said, according to a copy of the remarks provided to Fox News by Navy officials.
Crozier, who was beloved by many sailors, tested positive for COVID-19 this weekend according to a test he was given before he left the ship. Viral videos captured hundreds of sailors gathered on the carrier’s hangar deck to cheer for him as he walked off the vessel in Guam, hours after his dismissal. Crozier is awaiting reassignment by the Navy.
In his letter addressed to senior Navy leadership in Washington, D.C., Crozier warned, "We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset -- our sailors.”
Navy officials said some 173 sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for COVID-19, and 61 percent of the crew has been tested in all, with about 2,000 sailors moving ashore.
President Trump said at the White House coronavirus briefing on Saturday that he backed Modly’s decision.
"He shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter," Trump said of Crozier. "I thought it was terrible what he did."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CNN on Sunday that Crozier's removal was warranted, saying, "We hold leaders accountable for their actions."
Crozier had started showing COVID-19 symptoms before he was removed from the warship last Thursday, The New York Times first reported, citing two Naval Academy classmates of Crozier's close to him and his family. Modly ordered Crozier to step down, citing a failure to follow the Navy's chain of command. He accused Crozier of inciting “panic” with the letter.
Fox News' Jennifer Griffin, Lucas Tomlinson and Robert Gearty controbuted to this report.