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Modly Apologizes to Fired Captain and Carrier Crew After Trump Hints at Intervention

Gina Harkins

Hours after saying he stood by every word of a controversial speech to a ship's crew after firing their commanding officer, the Navy's top civilian leader is now apologizing for some of his statements.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly issued a Monday night apology to the crew of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt over comments he made about Capt. Brett Crozier, their former commanding officer, who broke protocol in an attempt to get his sailors help during a health crisis.

In a speech on the ship following the decision to relieve Crozier of command over his handling of the situation -- which resulted in his pleading letter being published by a newspaper -- Modly slammed the captain's handling of the situation.

"If he didn't think ... 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 naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this," Modly said in an audio recording of the speech obtained by Military.com.

After saying earlier Monday that he was standing "by every word I said -- even, regrettably, any profanity that may have been used for emphasis," Modly issued a very different statement after President Donald Trump said he was considering helping Crozier.

Related: President Trump Says He Might Intervene in Fired Navy Captain's Case

"Let me be clear," Modly said. "I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite. We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care. Captain Crozier is smart and passionate.

"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," he added.

The turn of events followed Trump weighing in on the matter during a press conference on the coronavirus crisis. Trump said Crozier shouldn't have sent the letter to anyone outside of his chain of command, but indicated he didn't want the carrier skipper's career to be ruined over one mistake.

"I don't want to see people hurt unnecessarily," Trump said. "Maybe we can solve it easily where, you know, it's not a life-changing thing."

Modly has faced backlash over his choice of words when addressing the Roosevelt's crew. Several lawmakers have called for him to resign or be removed from his post. And in recordings of Modly's remarks on the carrier, people -- presumably sailors on the ship -- can be heard loudly exclaiming with expletives in response to Modly's line about Crozier being naïve or stupid.

Modly's decision to relieve Crozier of command came after the captain begged for help on their behalf. Following the firing, the acting SecNav said he had been blindsided when the letter went public, and that Crozier acted unprofessionally by sending on unsecure channels. Modly said the Navy had already been sending help to the Roosevelt, and the letter did nothing to change the carrier's situation.

Videos posted on social media when Crozier walked off the ship showed hundreds of sailors chanting in support of their captain, who has since been diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus and which the warning letter was sent.

"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," Modly said on Monday night. "They, and the entire Navy, have my full commitment that I will continue to help get the TR back to full health and back to sea where we can move forward beyond this unfortunate situation."

Trump did not say whether he plans to reinstate Crozier as the carrier's commanding officer or assure he'd still be eligible for promotion despite his relief.

"People have bad days," he said. "We'll take a look at it."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Read more: Veterans in Congress Call for Acting SecNav's Resignation After Controversial Firing