Defense Secretary Mark Esper was put on the hot seat on Sunday morning by CNN Jake Tapper over the firing of Captain Capt. Brett E. Crozier, who was relieved of duty helming the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt for writing a letter for expressing concern for his crew as the coronavirus began to spread.
Esper went out of his way to say that he backed acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly decision to relieve Crozier who was attempting to protect the 5,000 sailors under his command, saying, “First and foremost, we needed to take care of the sailors on the ship. Ensure their well-being and get that ship out to sea as soon as possible. I’m pleased to report, over half of the ship has been tested. 155 came up positive, those are mild to moderate, no hospitalization whatsoever. The crew is being taken care of. With regard to the relief of the captain, I think the acting secretary made a tough decision, a decision that I support. It was based on his view that he lost faith and confidence in the captain based on his actions. It’s just another example of how we hold leaders accountable for actions.”
Later in the interview, host Tapper brought up the fact that most of the sailors are still trapped on the ship days after the coronavirus started spreading, which compelled the defense secretary to snap back at him.
“I want to ask you about the sailors,” Tapper began. “You mentioned what was going on. A Pentagon spokesperson said the goal was to have 2,700 sailors off the ship by Friday evening. As of yesterday afternoon, only 1,548 had been moved to shore. more than 1,000 await tests and why has the Navy failed to reach the goal? When will everyone be off the ship?”
“The Navy is working closely on this, the new commander will be out there very soon,” Esper explained. “There’s not a need necessarily to remove every sailor from the ship. You cannot do that, you have sensitive equipment, you have weapons on board that ship, you cannot completely evacuate the ship. It’s how you manage the crew to make sure you are protecting them, segregating, treating those who need treating while maintaining the readiness of the ship in case it’s called upon to get to sea quickly.”
“Doesn’t that underline the concern that the Navy is not taking this seriously enough with the urgency it deserves?” host Tapper pressed.
“I think that’s a completely false narrative,” the Trump administration official shot back. “The navy has been on top of this for several days when it first became known we had the first cases aboard the Teddy Roosevelt. The CNO, the entire military chain of command, the secretary have all been involved moving supplies, testing kits, providing support to the sailors from Guam. I disagree with that. I have a lot of faith and confidence in the navy leadership.”