Many resignations in the Trump administration stem from unavoidable ethical conflicts or personality clashes between the executive and his branch. But the run-up to Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly’s offer to resign on Tuesday may have been the most avoidable ouster to date.
It began with a more traditional Trump-era firing: On Thursday, U.S. Navy Captain Brett E. Crozier was removed from command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after he wrote a letter to senior military leaders — leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle — requesting aid for his 4,000-person crew, over 200 of whom had tested positive for coronavirus. Trump called Crozier’s action “terrible” over the weekend, and on Monday, Modly informed the crew that their erstwhile leader’s private call for action was a “betrayal.”
“If he didn’t think, in my opinion, that this information wasn’t going to get out to the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either too naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly said in a speech broadcast over the ship’s intercom. However, Modly failed to account for Crozier’s popularity among his crew — the captain received an ovation and chant in his name when he was forced to depart the ship. After the audio of Modly’s insult leaked on Monday, he defended himself in a statement: “I stand by every word I said, even, regrettable any profanity that may have been used for emphasis. Anyone who has served on a Navy ship would understand.” Hours later — after President Trump said he might “get involved” — Defense Secretary Mark Esper reportedly made Modly apologize: “Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite.”
According to Politico, Army Undersecretary James McPherson — who was promoted as the second-highest official on March 23 — will become the new acting Navy secretary. Modly had led the Navy since December 4, when he replaced former Acting Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who was fired for going outside the chain of command and proposing to the president that accused war criminal Eddie Gallagher be allowed to keep his SEAL pin if the White House stayed publicly neutral.