'He shouldn't be talking that way': Trump rips ousted Navy captain

By Juan Perez Jr.

A Navy commander’s written alarms about a coronavirus outbreak aboard his aircraft carrier “looked terrible,” President Donald Trump said Saturday, as he praised military leaders who removed the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s top officer from his post.

Pentagon officials ousted Capt. Brett Crozier after he wrote a searing letter to Navy leaders notifying them of a spike in cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, among sailors on his carrier. The San Francisco Chronicle, Crozier's hometown newspaper, published the letter Tuesday. Crozier was fired Thursday, as his former ship idled in Guam.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly described Crozier’s firing this week as the "hardest thing that I've ever had to do."

Trump said he fully supported Crozier's removal, though he said, "I didn't make the decision."

"The letter was a five-page letter from a captain, and the letter was all over the place," Trump said. "That's not appropriate."

“I thought it was terrible, what he did, to write a letter. I mean, this isn't a class on literature. This is a captain of a massive ship that's nuclear powered. And he shouldn't be talking that way in a letter,” Trump said.

The president also criticized Crozier for making a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam, in the midst of a global outbreak.

"Perhaps you don't do that in the middle of a pandemic," Trump said. "History would say you don't necessarily stop and let your sailors get off."

Defense officials have defended the Roosevelt's port call as reasonable decision to have made back in early February.

"At that time there were only 16 positive cases in Vietnam, and those were well to the north all isolated in Hanoi," Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, said in a March 24 press briefing, calling it "a very risk-informed decision" made by Admiral Philip Davidson, the head of Indo-Pacific Command.

More than 150 Roosevelt crew members have so far tested positive for Covid-19, the Navy said on Saturday. Forty-four percent of the crew has been tested, while more than 1,500 sailors have moved ashore as a smaller crew remains on board to sanitize the ship and keep its essential systems running.

Democrats in the House and Senate are now asking the Pentagon's top watchdog to investigate whether Modly acted improperly. In a letter to acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, 17 Senate Democrats, led by Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, requested a probe of both Crozier’s firing and the carrier’s outbreak.

Modly has stopped short of accusing Crozier of leaking the letter, but faulted the captain for sending it over "non-secure, unclassified email" and copying "a broad array of people," instead of relaying his concerns directly to Modly. The letter contained no classified information.

In the letter, Crozier urged "decisive action" to remove the "majority of personnel" from the carrier.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die," Crozier wrote. "If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”

Crozier's letter "unnecessarily" caused panic among the sailors and their families, and raised doubts about the ship's operational capability — concern that could have "emboldened our adversaries to seek advantage," Modly said.

This week, videos circulated online showing the remaining crew of the Roosevelt cheering Crozier as he walked down the gangplank in Guam.

Connor O'Brien contributed to this report.