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U.S. Navy Captain Brett E. Crozier, who was removed from command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after speaking out about his coronavirus-stricken crew aboard the aircraft carrier, has reportedly tested positive for the virus. According to friends of the captain who spoke with the New York Times, Captain Crozier was already showing symptoms of the virus while still aboard the ship. He was removed from the ship on Thursday — and received an emotional sendoff from hundreds of crew members, who cheered for Crozier and chanted his name as he went ashore in Guam, where the ship has been docked. The drama has been a major public black eye for the Trump administration amid its ongoing mismanagement of the coronavirus response.
On March 31, the San Francisco Chronicle published a leaked letter that Crozier had sent to senior U.S. military leaders pleading with them to do more to protect the crew of the Roosevelt, where an outbreak of the coronavirus was underway, infecting — by that point — at least 100 of the 4,000 sailors aboard. Crozier asked that the sailors be removed from the ship and allowed to quarantine for two weeks. “Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those sailors entrusted to our care,” he argued. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.”
Amid the subsequent scandal after the leak, acting Navy Secretary Thomas B. Modly soon said he no longer had confidence in the captain’s ability to command the ship since, he argued, Crozier had sent the letter through an unclassified email system, which allowed it to get out and cause alarm. The firing preempted an investigation into the incident. It remains unclear how involved the president and the White House were in Crozier’s firing.
On Saturday, President Trump attacked Crozier at his daily coronavirus press conference, noting that he thought the captain’s actions were “terrible” and that Crozier “shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter.” The commander-in-chief also blamed the captain for the outbreak, criticizing Crozier for making a port call in Vietnam in early February — at a time when there were only 16 known cases in the country and Trump and senior White House officials were actively downplaying the threat of the coronavirus. On March 24, Admiral Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, said the port call was a reasonable, “risk-informed” decision at the time.
The Democratic leaders of the House Armed Services Committee have called it “an overreaction,” writing that “throwing the commanding officer overboard without a thorough investigation is not going to solve the growing crisis aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt.” More than a dozen Senate Democrats have called for a probe into the move, which has also drawn condemnation from presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and retired admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
As of Sunday, at least 155 cases of the coronavirus had been confirmed aboard the ship, so far requiring no hospitalizations, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said during an interview on CNN’s State of the Union. Esper called Crozier’s removal from command “another example of how we hold leaders accountable for their actions.” He also said he thought acting Navy Secretary Modly “made a very tough decision, a decision that I supported … based on his view that he lost faith and confidence in the captain based on his action.”
More than 40 percent of the crew had been tested for the coronavirus as of Saturday, and 1,500 crew members had been moved ashore while the carrier was being disinfected.