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Navy sources had said that Modly told a colleague President Trump wanted Crozier fired. Modly told the Washington Post that he wanted to make the move before Trump ordered the captain out.
“I didn’t want to get into a decision where the president would feel that he had to intervene because the Navy couldn’t be decisive,” Modly said, according to the paper.
“If I were president, and I saw a commanding officer of a ship exercising such poor judgment, I would be asking why the leadership of the Navy wasn’t taking action itself.”
Modly added that he also had concerns over the firing of his predecessor, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who “lost his job because the Navy Department got crossways with the president,” during the case involving Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, the paper reported.
“I put myself in the president’s shoes. I considered how the president felt like he needed to get involved in Navy decisions. I didn’t want that to happen again.”
Crozier, 50, authored a letter warning that a coronavirus outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt had created a dire situation on the ship, which ended up in the hands of a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who reported its contents last week.
Modly said the letter “created panic on the ship” and “misrepresented the facts,” adding that Americans back home were “panicked.” He said that he didn’t mind Crozier raising concerns, but “it was the way in which he did it.”
Navy officials said roughly 155 sailors aboard the ship tested positive for COVID-19, along with Crozier. Half of the crew’s ship had also been tested for the virus.
This past Saturday, Trump said at the White House coronavirus briefing 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.”
Modly said the decision to relieve Cozier was “not one of retribution.”
“I did not come to this decision lightly,” he said. “I have no doubt in my mind [Captain] Crozier did what he thought was in the best interest [of] the safety and well being of his crew. Unfortunately, he did the opposite.”
“It unnecessarily raised alarms with the families of our sailors and Marines with no plan to address those concerns,” Modly added. “It raised concerns about the operational security and operational capability of that ship that could have emboldened our adversaries to seek advantage and it undermined the chain of command.”
As Cozier left the ship, a now-viral video captured hundreds of sailors cheering the captain as he walked off the vessel, turned, saluted and got into a car to await reassignment by the Navy.
Fox News’ Frank Miles, Robert Gearty, Lucas Tomlinson, and Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report