Esper faces tough questions on dismissal of aircraft carrier's commander

 

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperSenate Democrats demand to see copies of Trump's intelligence briefings on Russian bounties Overnight Defense: Top general says military must take 'hard look' at Confederate symbols on installations | Milley vows to 'get to bottom' of Russia bounty intel | Woman to join Green Berets for first time Top general vows to 'get to the bottom' of Russia bounty intel MORE faced tough questions on Sunday regarding the dismissal of a Navy captain who wrote a letter to leadership pleading for help amid a coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. 

Esper defended Navy leadership every time he was questioned about the removal of Capt. Brett Crozier and suggested President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Trump confirms 2018 US cyberattack on Russian troll farm Trump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott MORE did not play a role in the decision, which has sparked scrutiny.  

“Shouldn't there have been at least an investigation before he was relieved of command?” host Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperCarson calls for local leaders to 'condemn vandalization of statues,' 'dismantle autonomous zones' Officials couldn't reach Trump on golf course to delete retweet of video showing man chanting 'white power': report Democratic officials, governors push for nationwide mask mandate as administration defends state-by-state approach MORE asked Esper on CNN's "State of the Union."  “I mean, the captains of the USS John McCainJohn Sidney McCain Senate outlook slides for GOP Juan Williams: Time for boldness from Biden Democrats lead in three battleground Senate races: poll MORE and the USS Fitzgerald, who were captains when sailors died at sea, they at least had investigations before they were relieved of their commands.”

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“Captain Crozier was trying to save lives, and he wasn't even afforded the benefit of an investigation,” Tapper added. 

Esper responded that there is an ongoing investigation, and dismissed the need for one ahead of the Navy's decision.

“At this point in time, [acting Navy] Secretary [Thomas] Modly did not have faith and confidence that he could continue in his role as captain of the ship. That is not unheard of,” Esper responded. 

“It's certainly not unique to the Navy. The Navy has a culture of swiftly and decisively removing captains if they lose confidence in them,” he added. 

Host George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosCDC won't revise school opening guidelines after Trump criticism Pelosi: Nationwide mask mandate 'definitely long overdue' ABC News to air Bolton interview shortly before White House memoir release MORE similarly questioned Esper on ABC's "This Week" over the decision to remove Crozier before an investigation. 

“Sec. Modly made a tough decision, a tough call. I have full faith and confidence in him and the Navy leadership. And I supported their decision,” Esper responded. 

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In a separate interview on “This Week,” former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump commutes Roger Stone's sentence Hillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok House Democrat warns about 'inaccurate' polls: Trump voters 'fundamentally undercounted' MORE had called the treatment of Crozier “close to criminal.” 

Tapper also pressed Esper on remarks by Trump, who described Crozier’s decision to write a letter to leadership “terrible,” and said the captain should have made his request in a call. 

“He wrote a letter to try to save the lives of his sailors. Do you think that's terrible that he did that?” Tapper asked Esper. 

The Defense secretary said he didn't want to “get too much into the facts of the matter” since there’s an ongoing investigation and the matter could end up on his desk. 

Esper also brushed off questions over Trump’s reported involvement in requesting Crozier’s removal. 

When asked during both Sunday morning interviews if the decision was made by Trump, Esper said the decision was made by Modly. 

“It was the Secretary Modly's call and I told him I would support it,” Esper said on “This Week.” 

Esper also pushed back on Tapper’s line of questioning over the Navy not evacuating members off of the aircraft carrier.

“Doesn't the fact that the Navy hasn't even gotten all the sailors off the ship that they said they were going to get off by Friday night underline Captain Crozier's concern that the Navy is not taking this seriously enough, with the urgency it deserves?” Tapper asked. 

“I think that's a completely false narrative, Jake,” Esper responded.

“The Navy's been on top of this now for several days, when it first came down that we had the first cases aboard the Teddy Roosevelt. ... The entire military chain of command, Secretary Modly himself have been involved, moving supplies, testing kits, providing support to the sailors from Guam,” Esper added. 

Over half the sailors on the ship have been tested for coronavirus, and 155 have tested positive, he said on CNN. Of the positive cases, all are “mild to moderate” and have not required hospitalization. 

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Crozier’s firing has amplified increasing scrutiny of the Pentagon over whether it is doing enough to protect service members from the coronavirus. 

As of Friday, the Pentagon said 978 service members had tested positive for the coronavirus.