The commander in chief said Monday that he will be calling the defense secretary to learn more about a Navy commanding officer's sudden relief, because he doesn't want an otherwise outstanding captain's life destroyed by one mistake.
President Donald Trump told reporters that he reviewed Capt. Brett Crozier's personnel records after acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly removed him as commanding officer of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt. Crozier sent a letter outside classified channels requesting help as coronavirus cases spread on his ship, which acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said might have broken military law.
Trump said Crozier "did a bad thing" by sending the letter, but added that "people have bad days."
"We'll take a look at it," Trump said during a White House press conference on the global pandemic. "... I like to solve problems -- it's a problem. I don't want to see men hurt, women hurt, I don't want to see people hurt unnecessarily. Maybe we can solve it easily where, you know, it's not a life-changing thing."
Trump did not say whether he would consider reinstating Crozier as the carrier's commanding officer, which more than 277,000 people have called on him to do in a Change.org petition. Being relieved of command is typically a career-ending move for military officers, since they're unlikely to be promoted again.
Modly's handling of the situation has thrust the Navy into the spotlight as the military faces questions about how it's handling the coronavirus crisis. Several veterans in Congress have called for Modly to be removed from his post, not only for the controversial firing, but also for the language he used in an address to the carrier's crew about the situation. He implied to the crew that Crozier was "too naïve or too stupid" to lead the ship.
The president said he hasn't read Crozier's Letter, which was published a week ago by the San Francisco Chronicle. In his letter, Crozier pleaded with Navy leaders to evacuate his aircraft carrier as dozens of sailors tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Crozier said not doing so would risk sailors' lives and cause Navy families to lose faith with the service.
Trump said on Monday that Crozier "shouldn't be writing letters like that." But then the president, known for his candor and bluntness, added that he could relate.
"It happens," Trump said. "Sometimes I'll write a letter and then I'll say, 'Well, we can't even send that.' Not too often, but it happens."
About the same time Trump was addressing the situation in his press conference, the Navy released a new opinion piece Modly wrote for The New York Times. In it, the secretary again defended his decision to relieve Crozier of command.
Modly was responding to another opinion piece in the Times titled "Captain Crozier Is a Hero," by Tweed Roosevelt, the great grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, for whom the carrier is named. He again stressed that Crozier's letter unnecessarily created a public panic when the situation called for calm.
For that, Crozier "bears responsibility," Modly wrote, calling the letter a lapse of judgement in a moment of adversity.
"Sensitive information about the material condition of our biggest and most powerful warship made its way out into the public arena, in the hands of our adversaries," Modly said. "So did statements about political decisions outside the purview of the military. It was my determination that the Navy could not afford to wait to see if this lapse of judgement was just an aberration, or even the Captain's new normal in the midst of a challenge. The stakes of our national security are simply much too high for that."
Modly went on to say that he's certain Tweed Roosevelt's great grandfather, the 26th president "would have demanded much more under pressure."
"I certainly do, and we all must," Modly added.
Trump in his press conference laid out some of the career milestones Crozier, a rotary- and fixed-wing pilot, hit before becoming the Roosevelt's commanding officer. He called Crozier an outstanding person with an exemplary military career.
He noted how Crozier transitioned from flying SH-60B Seahawk helicopters at the start of his career to flying FA-18 Hornet fighter jets.
"His name was 'Chopper' and he was a great helicopter pilot," Trump said. "It's a tremendous skill. I know a lot about helicopters."
About four years ago, Crozier completed the naval nuclear-power training program, according to his official biography, and served as executive officer on the carrier Ronald Reagan.
"He's very smart," Trump said. "He studied nuclear energy and he was fantastic. And very few people have the aptitude, the mentality to do that. Nuclear energy is very complex. It's very hard. Very few people could do it and he did it well.
"... So he made a mistake, he made a mistake," Trump added. "And maybe we're going to make that mistake not destroy his life."