Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he has an ‘open mind’ on the possibility of reinstating fired aircraft carrier commander


“I directed that investigation a couple weeks ago, it concluded late last week, it is now with the Navy, it will come to me at some point in time. As I am in the chain of command I can’t comment on it further, but I’ve got to keep an open mind with regard to everything,” Esper told NBC.

The ship’s former commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, was fired earlier this month for what the acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who subsequently resigned, said was poor judgment for too widely disseminating a warning about the spread of virus aboard his vessel, a warning that eventually made its way into the press.

Modly resigned days later over his handling of the incident, actions which included a $240,000 trip to Guam where he slammed Crozier and admonished sailors for giving Crozier a rousing send off in public remarks to the crew.
The number of coronavirus cases aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt have skyrocketed in recent days, with 655 sailors testing positive as of Thursday. One sailor has died and several more have been hospitalized in Guam.

The Navy has evacuated more than 4,000 sailors from the ship and moved them into quarantine or isolation on Guam, an evacuation that was urgently called for by Crozier in his letter.

Following his ouster Crozier was initially reassigned to the headquarters of the Naval Air Forces Pacific command in San Diego but has remained in Guam where he is completing a mandatory quarantine period.

On Wednesday the New York Times reported that the Navy is looking into whether it can reinstate Crozier, according to Defense Department officials.

‘No options off the table’

Esper’s unwillingness to rule out reinstating Crozier comes as the Navy has repeatedly said nothing is off the table and that no final decisions made with regard to the investigation.

“As the Chief of Naval Operations has made clear, all options are on the table. That said, Adm. Gilday has received, and is reviewing the Preliminary Inquiry. It will take time for the report to be reviewed and endorsed by Adm. Gilday. No final decisions have been made,” Cmdr. Nate Christensen, the spokesman for the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told CNN Wednesday night.

The Navy’s top admiral told reporters last week that he is “taking no options off the table” as he reviews the investigation.

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“I am taking no options off the table as I review that investigation I think that that’s my responsibility to approach it in a way with due diligence to make sure it’s completely fair and unbiased as I can possibly make it,” Gilday told a small group of reporters on a conference call.

Gilday also said that he has not spoken to Crozier and that he is under no pressure in terms of the investigation.

“I’m under no pressure from anybody in terms of my pace or in terms of any kind of influence, nobody has talked to me about that investigation—you’re the first people that I’m talking to about the investigation outside of my office,” Gilday said.

Asked if the reinstatement of Crozier would signal that his initial ouster was an error, Esper said “Again I can’t comment on that we’ve got to take this one step at a time, let the investigation within the Navy conclude itself if you will as they brief it up we’ll take things as we can and make very reasoned opinions and judgments as this progresses.”

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While much of the attention focuses on whether Crozier will be reinstated to command the ship, the Chief of Naval Operation’s investigation set up a deeper look into how top commanders were running the ship when the virus hit the crew.

Gilday ordered a an examination of how healthcare professionals on the ship were communicating their concerns to Crozier and other senior leaders and if that had an impact on the ship’s response to the virus outbreak. He also ordered a look at how Crozier and his immediate superior on the ship, Rear Adm. Stuart Baker were communicating and why Crozier might have chosen to go around Baker.

“That’s exactly why we are doing the investigation, to understand the why behind the memo,” Gilday said last week.

“I’m speculating in my mind’s eye as a former (commanding officer) of a ship years ago, as a (commanding officer) of two destroyers, try to put myself in his shoes and understand why he would have done that and i just don’t have the answer to that hence my speculation on there must have been a communications breakdown, or I can envision that somewhere,” Gilday added.


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