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Lawmakers call for investigation into aircraft carrier captain's firing

Democrats in both chambers of Congress are calling for an investigation into the Navy’s firing of an aircraft carrier commander who had pleaded for help with a coronavirus outbreak on his ship.

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocratic senators offer bill to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers Senators push for Turkey sanctions after reports Ankara used Russian system to detect US-made jets Lawmakers step up push for administration to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers MORE (Md.) wrote a letter co-signed by 15 of their colleagues to Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine requesting his office “immediately conduct a formal investigation” into the outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the Navy’s decision to relieve Capt. Brett Crozier of his command.

“It is essential that your office conduct a comprehensive investigation to avoid any potential conflicts of interest within the Navy chain of command, and we encourage you to evaluate all relevant matters associated with the dismissal and the outbreak on the ship,” they wrote in the letter Friday.

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Separately, Democratic Reps. Ted LieuTed W. LieuPelosi suggests Trump setting 'dangerous' example with quick return to White House The spin on Woodward's tapes reveals the hypocrisy of Democrats Larry Kudlow defends response to coronavirus: Trump 'led wisely' MORE (Calif.) and Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoLeadership matters: President's words and actions show he is unfit to lead our nation Overnight Defense: Pentagon IG to audit use of COVID-19 funds on contractors | Dems optimistic on blocking Trump's Germany withdrawal | Obama slams Trump on foreign policy House Democrat optimistic defense bill will block Trump's Germany withdrawal MORE (Ariz.) wrote to Fine on Friday urging him to “open an investigation into this matter as soon as possible.”

"As veterans, we were taught that protecting the health and safety of troops was one of the highest priorities of any commander," they wrote, adding they are "disturbed" by Crozier's firing.

On Thursday evening, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly announced he had removed Crozier from command of the Roosevelt after a letter he wrote Navy leadership leaked in the media earlier in the week.

The letter warned of dire consequences if most of the crew on board the Roosevelt isn’t evacuated. As of Friday, 137 sailors on the ship had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier wrote. “If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”

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Modly argued that while Crozier may not have been wrong to write the letter, he sent a copy to too many people, failing to ensure it wasn’t leaked to the media.

In their letter, the senators argued that it is “difficult to understand how Capt. Crozier’s decision to copy ‘20 or 30 people’ on an email to his chain of command necessarily constitutes a breach warranting relief of command.”

“This reversal sends a mixed message to sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt and given the remarkable show of support for Capt. Crozier by members of his crew, we are additionally worried about the impact of this decision on morale and readiness,” they wrote.

Video emerged on social media Friday of Crozier getting a hero’s sendoff from his crew, with hundreds gathered on the ship to applaud and cheer his name.

The senators also expressed concern about potential outbreaks on other ships and submarines, saying an investigation into the outbreak on the Roosevelt would help “evaluate whether the Navy is implementing all appropriate precautionary measures and best-practices to protect the safety of our fleet.”

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“We are especially concerned about Navy readiness to support current and future deployments without all necessary precautionary measures and resources, such as for the USS Ronald Reagan and upcoming deployment of the USS Nimitz,” they wrote. “Your conclusions and recommendations could be crucial in ensuring that the Navy and other services to respond appropriately to the COVID-19 threat and protect our servicemembers.”

In Lieu and Gallego’s letter, they also argued the situation with Crozier appears on its face to be retaliation.

“Although Capt. Crozier’s letter appeared in the press, Secretary Modly did not accuse Capt. Crozier of providing the letter to the press when he relieved him of command on April 2,” they wrote. “It also appears Capt. Crozier was absolutely correct: personnel needed to be removed from the aircraft carrier as soon as possible in order to prevent further spread of COVID-19 to our sailors.”