The Navy captain who was relieved of command after ringing the alarm bell over coronavirus infections on an aircraft carrier should be given his job back, Navy officials recommended on Friday.
But the final decision on reinstating of Capt. Brett Crozier’s command of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt rests with Defense Secretary Mark Esper. And per The New York Times, which first reported the Navy officals’ recommendation to Esper Friday, the Pentagon chief has asked for additional time to consider whether to sign-off on Crozier’s reinstatement.
Crozier was relieved of command earlier this month after a letter he wrote expressing alarm about the spread of the disease on the Roosevelt, and asking to isolate the bulk of his crew on-shore to avoid spreading the virus, leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle.
After the letter became headline news, the Navy disembarked the vast majority of the ship’s sailors. The captain became a viral sensation when video from aboard the Roosevelt showed the ship’s crew cheering their captain as he left his command.
Esper said a few days later that he supported then-Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly’s decision to relieve Crozier, and so did President Trump; “This isn’t a class on literature,” the President said of Crozier’s leaked memo.
A few days later, Esper said in an interview that he was open to reinstating Crozier depending on the outcome of a Navy review. The Times reported Friday that the recommendation to reinstate Crozier came from the chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Michael Gilday, and Acting Navy Secretary James McPherson.
Esper’s decision not to make an announcement about Crozier’s fate Friday afternoon interrupted the Pentagon’s plans.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Gilday and Esper were scheduled to meet for 30 minutes midday Friday, after which the Pentagon had planned a congressional briefing on the Defense secretary’s decision. Esper’s own spokesperson said before the meeting that the secretary trusted the Navy’s judgment and would likely back its conclusion about Crozier, the Journal reported.
But ultimately, Gilday and Esper met for two hours, the Journal reported, and the Pentagon chief still has not made a decision.
The Times noted that at the time Crozier rang the alarm about the spread of COVID-19 on Roosevelt, just more than 100 sailors had tested positive for the disease. The number now stands at 840. On April 13, a sailor on the Roosevelt died of COVID-19-related complications.
This post has been updated.