Veterans in Congress Call for Acting SecNav’s Resignation After Controversial Firing

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly briefs the press about the Navy’s response to COVID-19.
Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly briefs the press about the Navy’s response to COVID-19, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., April 1, 2020. (DoD/Lisa Ferdinando)

The acting Navy secretary who removed a popular commanding officer from his position last week is facing growing criticism for his actions, including calls for his resignation.

Democratic lawmakers, former officers and scholars say Thomas Modly should step down or be removed from his position as the service's top civilian leader. Those calls increased on social media Monday when new audio of a speech Modly gave to the crew of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt was leaked to the media.

Rep. Elaine Luria, a Virginia Democrat and retired Navy commander, said Monday that she has called on Defense Secretary Mark Esper to immediately fire Modly.

"If you want to know why, listen to this," she tweeted, sharing a link to the audio of Modly's speech to the Roosevelt's crew.

Related: 'Too Naive or Too Stupid:' Acting SecNav Slams Fired Captain in Speech to Crew

The secretary's office did not respond to a request for comment over the calls for his resignation.

In his speech, Modly said Capt. Brett Crozier, the ship's former commander, should have realized when sending an email about coronavirus cases spreading on the ship that it would end up being leaked to the media. Failure to realize that, Modly said, shows Crozier was "too naïve or too stupid" to lead his crew.

Members of Crozier’s crew cheered for him as he left the ship on Thursday. Crozier has since tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. The leaked letter he wrote warned Navy leaders that cases were spreading rapidly on his ship.

Sen. Tim Kaine, another Virginia Democrat, said suggesting Crozier was stupid and bashing the media for reporting the truth was "completely inappropriate."

"Our dedicated sailors deserve better from their leadership," he said.

Modly told sailors on the Roosevelt they should never go to the media, claiming journalists have an agenda and will use information to divide the public and embarrass service members and the Navy.

Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California and Air Force Reserve colonel serving in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, said the civilian-controlled military "requires our troops to have confidence that our civilian leaders always have their best interests in mind."

"Modly has now lost that confidence," Lieu said. "He should resign."

Rep. Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger and Colorado Democrat, called Modly's address on the Roosevelt "a failure of leadership," adding that the acting Navy secretary is the only one who should be relieved of command.

Normal Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, also called for Modly's resignation or removal. On Thursday, after Modly removed Crozier from his position, Ornstein said the secretary is "a danger to the health and integrity of our military."

David Frum, a political commentator who served as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, said future Navy and Marine Corps officers will learn about Modly's speech "for the next 100 years as a perfect textbook example of how not to lead and inspire."

"Every time you think it can't get worse, it gets worse," he said Monday.

A petition calling on Crozier to be restored as the Roosevelt's commanding officer had more than 260,000 signatures after audio of Modly's speech was made public.

Editor's note: Rep. Jason Crow represents Colorado.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Read more: Petition to Reinstate Fired Carrier Captain Goes Viral as Lawmakers Call for Probe

Story Continues