Defense chief indicates it's possible fired Navy captain could be reinstated

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper indicated Thursday that it's possible Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, who was relieved of his command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after raising concerns about a coronavirus outbreak, could be reinstated.

An investigation into the incident was completed last week, and the Navy is now reviewing its findings, Esper said on the "TODAY" show on Thursday.

The report "will come to me at some point in time," Esper said. He added that he couldn't comment further before then, but was keeping an "open mind."

"Let the investigation within Navy conclude itself, and we’ll take things as we can and make very reasoned opinions and judgments as this progresses," Esper said.

Crozier lost his command on April 2 after sending a strongly worded letter to Navy leadership detailing his concerns about the spread of the virus on the aircraft carrier. The letter was leaked to the media and generated national headlines.

One sailor who was aboard the ship later died of coronavirus-related complications, and Esper said Thursday that 600 or so crew members have been found to be infected with the virus.

Crozier was relieved of his command by then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who ultimately resigned in the aftermath of the incident.

Modly at first said Crozier was removed from his post, while able to keep his rank and remain in the Navy, because he sent his letter over "non-secure unclassified email" to a "broad array of people" rather than up the chain of command.

But later, while speaking in Guam to the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Modly said Crozier was guilty of a “betrayal of trust."

“If he didn’t think, in my opinion, that this information wasn’t going to get out into the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either, A, too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this,” Modly continued. “The alternative is that he did this on purpose.”

Modly first stood by his remarks but later, after President Donald Trump voiced support for Crozier, Modly released a new statement apologizing for his remarks.

On April 6, Modly offered his resignation and Esper accepted it, selecting Under Secretary of the Army James McPherson as acting Navy secretary, according to officials.

The Roosevelt has been docked in Guam, a small island in the Pacific Ocean and an unincorporated territory of the United States, since March 27 for a scheduled port visit for resupply and crew rest.

The Navy last week said that 92 percent of the ship's roughly 4,800 crew members have been tested for COVID-19, with more than 3,600 of them getting back negative results.