Top Navy Leaders Want Crozier Reinstated as Roosevelt's Commanding Officer: Report

Capt. Brett Croziergives remarks during an all-hands call on the ship’s flight deck.
Capt. Brett Crozier, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), gives remarks during an all-hands call on the ship’s flight deck Dec. 15, 2019. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alexander Williams)

The Navy's most-senior leaders have recommended that the captain removed from his job this month after warning about a growing health crisis on his aircraft carrier be reinstated as the ship's commanding officer, The New York Times is reporting.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday presented his recommendations to acting Navy Secretary James McPherson, Navy officials said in a statement. McPherson is continuing discussions with Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

“No final decisions have been made,” the statement reads.

Esper will now review the full report and meet again with Navy leadership "to discuss next steps," said Jonathan Hoffman, the defense secretary's spokesman. He did not mention a timeline for the follow-up meeting.

"[Esper] remains focused on and committed to restoring the full health of the crew and getting the ship at sea again soon," he added.

Hoffman said earlier Friday that Esper was set to meet with Navy leaders and that he would keep an open mind and likely support the service's recommendation.

Related: Carrier Commanding Officer Fired Over Plea for Resources that Went Public

Reinstating Crozier as the nuclear-powered carrier's skipper would be a rare move for a commanding officer publicly relieved of command. But the fallout from the decision, made by former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, has left the service facing significant backlash.

The situation has led to several public relations firestorms, first when video emerged of Crozier's crew cheering for him and chanting his name as he walked off their ship. That was followed just days later by a stunning speech Modly made to the crew aboard the Roosevelt in which he insulted Crozier's intelligence, calling him "too naïve or too stupid" to command the ship.

Modly's trip, which ran taxpayers more than $240,000 for the 35-hour round-trip flight to Guam, would ultimately cost him his job. He stepped down from his role as acting secretary -- the second person to vacate the office amid controversy in less than six months.

Crozier's firing stemmed from a letter he wrote that was published by the San Francisco Chronicle on March 30. In it, Crozier pleaded with the Navy to take seriously the fast-moving spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, on his ship.

The virus has since infected at least 840 crew members, including Crozier. One sailor, Aviation Ordnanceman Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., died of COVID-19.

In his letter, Crozier urged Navy leaders to evacuate most of the Roosevelt's crew to better isolate the personnel and disinfect the ship.

"We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die," he wrote. "If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset -- our Sailors."

Modly, after first telling reporters Crozier would likely only be punished if he was found to have leaked the letter to the media, later removed the captain from his position. Crozier, Modly said, revealed sensitive information about the ship's readiness while it was deployed, putting its crew at risk.

The former secretary repeatedly told reporters that Crozier had emailed his letter to between 20 and 30 people. The email was sent to 10 people, according to a copy obtained by The Washington Post, and in it, Crozier acknowledged it could cost him his Navy career.

Modly later told David Ignatius, a columnist at The Washington Post, that he believed Crozier was "panicking" about the situation on the Roosevelt. The former secretary also said he relieved Crozier before President Donald Trump ordered the captain to be fired.

"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 told the Post. That was despite, he added, other Pentagon leaders -- including Esper, Gilday and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley -- wanting to wait until an investigation into Crozier's actions was completed.

Since Crozier was later diagnosed with the virus he warned was spreading through the crew, he has spent weeks following his relief in isolation. Modly was also forced to self-isolate after he was exposed to the crew after flying to Guam and boarding the ship to give his damning speech over the carrier's loudspeaker system.

Trump has said he is considering getting involved in Crozier's case. Crozier was wrong to send the letter, the president said, adding that he didn't want to see the officer's life ruined over one mistake.

It was not immediately clear whether Trump has followed other developments involving the captain's case. Esper's decision not to immediately accept the Navy's recommendation that Crozier be reinstated "could reflect a fear of getting on the wrong side of his boss," officials told The New York Times.

The Roosevelt isn't the only Navy ship battling coronavirus cases among its crew. Dozens of ships have had cases, including a new outbreak aboard another deployed ship, the destroyer Kidd.

The Kidd is heading back to port after a cluster of COVID-19 cases, including one that led to a sailor being medically evacuated from the ship.

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

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

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