Washington (CNN)Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned on Tuesday, a day after leaked audio revealed he called the ousted commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt “stupid” in an address to the ship’s crew, according to a US official and a former senior military official.
The Navy and Department of Defense did not respond to a request for comment. Undersecretary of the Army James McPherson has been tapped to succeed Modly, a US official and a defense official tells CNN. McPherson is a retired rear admiral and was the former judge advocate general of the Navy.
On Monday, Modly told the crew of the Roosevelt that their former commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, was either “too naive or too stupid” to be in command or that he intentionally leaked a memo to the media, in which Crozier warned about coronavirus spreading aboard the aircraft carrier and urged action to save his sailors, according to remarks obtained by CNN.
Late Monday night, Modly apologized in a statement for calling Crozier “stupid” in his earlier remarks.
“Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naive nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite,” Modly said in his statement. “We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care. Captain Crozier is smart and passionate. I believe, precisely because he is not naive and stupid, that he sent his alarming email with the intention of getting it into the public domain in an effort to draw public attention to the situation on his ship. I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused.”
Modly’s Monday morning remarks to the crew prompted sailors to yell back in frustration. President Donald Trump said that he might “get involved” in the matter, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper later ordered Modly to apologize, two US officials told CNN.
Tuesday’s news comes after top members of the House Armed Services Committee began calling for his departure.
Modly relieved Crozier of duty late last week after a memo the captain had written to Navy officials leaked to the press. Crozier wrote of the challenge of trying to contain a coronavirus outbreak aboard the ship and urgently requested that sailors be allowed to quarantine on land.
Modly told the crew that Crozier had to go, citing loss of confidence and a failure to adhere to the chain of command. It was a “betrayal of trust, with me, with his chain of command,” he said in remarks that were piped over the vessel’s public address system.