WASHINGTON — Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly has submitted a letter of resignation to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
That’s according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the matter before an official announcement.
The official says Modly has also told staff he is quitting.
Modly had created a combustible controversy by firing the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt last week, saying Capt. Brett E. Crozier had shown “extremely poor judgment” in widely distributing by email a letter calling for urgent help with the COVID-19 outbreak aboard his ship.
At least 173 sailors aboard the ship had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Monday. Crozier also has tested positive. About 2,000 of the 4,865 crew members had been taken off the ship to be tested.
On Sunday, Modly flew to Guam to address sailors on the aircraft carrier who had cheered their support of Crozier as he departed the ship on Friday. He reprimanded them, saying they were overlooking their most basic duty to defend U.S. interests.
“So think about that when you cheer the man off the ship who exposed you to that,” he said. “I understand you love the guy. It’s good that you love him. But you’re not required to love him.”
“I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused,” he wrote, referring to his speech aboard the Roosevelt on Sunday. “I also want to apologize directly to Captain Crozier, his family, and the entire crew of the Theodore Roosevelt for any pain my remarks may have caused.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s staff told Modly he must apologize, according to a person familiar with the conversation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private conversation.
Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday that he might get involved, agreeing that Modly’s criticism of Crozier was “a rough statement.” He said Crozier made a mistake when he sent a memo to several people laying out his concerns about the crew and the virus. In the memo, which was leaked to the media, Crozier said, “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.”
Modly, a 1983 Naval Academy graduate, became the acting Navy secretary last November after Richard Spencer was ousted from the position. Trump last month nominated retired Rear Adm. Kenneth Braithwaite, the current ambassador to Norway, to be the next Navy secretary.