ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The acting secretary of the Navy had some disparaging words for Capt. Brett Crozier, the ousted commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The Navy secretary spoke to the ship's crew while aboard the carrier. The former commander of the Roosevelt was reassigned after he wrote a memo complaining about the Navy's reaction to the coronavirus outbreak aboard the carrier. The memo leaked, the crisis went public, and Navy officials have been working to contain it ever since. NPR has now obtained a copy of the leaked audio of the acting Navy secretary addressing the crew. And NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us to discuss it.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So what did the acting secretary, Thomas Modly, say in this leaked audio?
BOWMAN: Well, he was pretty defensive, Ari, and he told the crew that he and Navy leaders were working to help Capt. Crozier deal with the virus before that letter was written. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
THOMAS MODLY: I want you to know that no one at my level has been ignoring the situation here from the very beginning. I reached out to your C.O. through my chief of staff very, very early on in this crisis.
BOWMAN: And Modly has previously said that they were already rushing medical personnel to the ship planning to remove sailors but probably not as fast as Capt. Crozier wanted. And Modly went on in his talk to the crew to sharply criticize the captain for sending that letter to more than 20 people. Here he is again.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MODLY: If he didn't think that information was going to get out into the public in this information age that we live in, then he was, A, too naive or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this. The alternate is that he did it on purpose. And that's a serious violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
BOWMAN: Now, the letter was first published by the San Francisco Chronicle, Crozier's hometown paper. Modly mentioned that fact at a Pentagon briefing last week but acknowledged he has no information Crozier leaked it to the paper. Now, Modly's office in a statement today said the secretary has not heard this audio, but neither he nor anyone in the Navy is disputing the authenticity of the tape. Modly said in a statement he spoke from the heart to the crew, and he stands by every word.
SHAPIRO: And can you tell how the crew received those remarks?
BOWMAN: You know, we don't know. There seemed to be a silence when the secretary concluded. We do know Crozier was popular with the crew. He got a rousing sendoff from his crew when he left the carrier with shouts of Capt. Crozier, Capt. Crozier. Colleagues have rushed to defend the captain, calling him a fine officer. Crozier is a Naval Academy grad. He flew both helicopters as well as the F-18 warplane. Modly criticized him as being too emotional during a Pentagon briefing, again, last week, indicating the captain just couldn't handle the stress of the virus. Now, reportedly, Pentagon and Navy officers did not want Crozier relieved from command. They preferred to have an investigation and go forward from there. Secretary Modly, who is also, by the way, a Naval Academy grad and flew helicopters himself, said he wanted to remove Crozier, and no one stood in his way. A number of people I've been talking with at the Pentagon here, Ari, they're just shaking their heads over how this was handled, saying it was a disaster.
SHAPIRO: Just in our final seconds, how is the health of the crew and what's the status of the outbreak?
BOWMAN: Well, the ship is still in Guam, and they've tested 61% of the roughly 5,000 sailor crew. One hundred seventy-three sailors so far have tested positive. No one is hospitalized. Many are staying ashore, some in hotels. Now, Crozier himself reportedly tested positive according to those who know him. But the captain, according to the Navy, doesn't want to comment on that.
SHAPIRO: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, thank you for the update.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ari.
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