Trump condemns ship’s captain who wrote scathing letter demanding crew’s safety amid coronavirus outbreak

Joe Sommerlad
Donald Trump: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Donald Trump has condemned the former captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier who was relieved of his command after sounding the alarm about a coronavirus outbreak onboard.

The president was asked about the US Navy’s decision on Thursday to remove Captain Brett Crozier during his latest White House press conference on the crisis on Saturday, speaking as the number of crewmen infected aboard the 5,000-strong nuclear-powered vessel rose by 13 per cent in 24 hours to 155.

Captain Crozier had written a scathing memo about the Navy’s failure to do more to protect his staff and requested a chance to take the bulk of his crew ashore for treatment in isolation, a move that led to his dismissal by acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly, who said he had “demonstrated extremely poor judgement”.

“We are not at war... Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to take care of our most trusted asset, ours sailors,” the captain said in his controversial dispatch to superior officers.

Mr Trump yesterday agreed his actions were “not appropriate”.

“I guess the captain stopped in Vietnam and people got off in Vietnam and perhaps you don’t do that in the middle of a pandemic... History would say you don’t necessarily stop and let your sailors get off,” the president began, blaming the man at the centre of the storm for a crisis he was seeking to avert.

“More importantly, he wrote a letter,” he continued. “The letter was a five-page letter from a captain and the letter was all over the place. That’s not appropriate. I don’t think that’s appropriate. And these are tough people. These are tough, strong people. I thought it looked terrible to be honest with you.

“Now they’ve made their decision - I didn’t make the decision. [But] I thought it was terrible what he did. To write a letter? This isn’t a class on literature.

“This is a captain of a massive ship that’s nuclear powered and he shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter. He could call and ask and suggest,” Mr Trump concluded. “I agree with their decision 100 per cent.”

Videos circulated on social media on Friday of the captain being cheered by his former charges as he departed the Roosevelt in Guam, the assembled crowd hugely appreciative of his efforts to save their lives and visibly incensed by his fate.

“And that’s how you send out one of the greatest captains you ever had!” exclaims a loyal sailor in one of the posts, amid thunderous applause.

On Friday, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said defence secretary Mark Esper supported Acting Secretary Modly’s decision to fire Captain Crozier from his command job and that Mr Esper he had lost confidence in the captain.

Army general Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, subsequently told Fox News that he too backed Mr Modly’s judgement but accepted it was a difficult decision and reaffirmed that the secretary is accountable to the American people.

A group of prominent Democratic senators have nevertheless formally requested that the Pentagon’s independent inspector general investigate the firing.

Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland led the push and were joined by 15 others, including Bernie Sanders and his former 2020 rivals Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris.

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