Acting Navy secretary resigns after controversial comments to aircraft carrier crew

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly, with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael M. Gilday, announces the firing of Capt. Brett Crozier as commanding officer of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., April 2, 2020. (Lisa Ferdinando/Office of the Secretary of Defense/TNS)
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By Andrew Dyer The San Diego Union-Tribune (TNS)

SAN DIEGO — Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned Tuesday, a day after audio from his address to the crew of the San Diego-based carrier Theodore Roosevelt leaked to the media, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement.

“This morning I accepted Secretary Modly’s resignation,” Esper said in a written statement. “He resigned on his own accord, putting the Navy and the Sailors above self so that the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, and the Navy as an institution, can move forward.”

In the speech Modly called the ship’s commander he fired “too naive or too stupid” for command, according to reports from multiple news agencies.

Esper said the acting Army undersecretary, James McPherson, will succeed Modly.

President Donald Trump’s permanent nominee for the job — Kenneth Braithwaite, currently ambassador to Norway — has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

Modly apologized late Monday for comments about Capt. Brett Crozier, who had commanded Theodore Roosevelt until he was removed after a letter Crozier wrote describing the ship’s COVID-19 outbreak was leaked to the news media and publicized.

Modly’s remarks about Crozier led several Democratic lawmakers to call for his resignation or firing.

The San Diego-based aircraft carrier is in port in Guam. As of Tuesday, 230 sailors have tested positive for the coronavirus, the Navy said.

McPherson is a retired two-star admiral, San Diego native and graduate of both San Diego State University and the University of San Diego. He retired from the Navy in 2006 as the service’s top lawyer.

Trump nominated him for his current post in the Army in December.

Modly’s tenure as acting secretary ends just as it began — mired in controversy.

In November, Esper fired then-Navy Secretary Richard Spencer after the two clashed over the president’s involvement in the case of San Diego-based Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher.

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