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

 

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperChinese Communist Party is transnational criminal organization, US must respond Overnight Defense: Armed Services chairman unsold on slashing defense budget | Democratic Senate report details 'damage, chaos' of Trump foreign policy | Administration approves .8B Taiwan arms sales Democratic House chairman trusts Pentagon won't follow 'unlawful orders' on election involvement 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 TrumpMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' 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 TapperNY Times slammed for glowing Farrakhan op-ed: 'You would think he was a gentleman' Democrats condemn Trump's rhetoric against Michigan governor as allies defend rally Illinois governor blames Trump's allies for state's wrong direction on coronavirus MORE asked Esper on CNN's "State of the Union."  “I mean, the captains of the USS John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Jennifer Lawrence says until Trump she was 'a little Republican' Senate is leaning to the Democrats, big time, with a wave 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 StephanopoulosThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Tipping point week for Trump, Biden, Congress, voters Pelosi: White House made 'unacceptable changes' to testing language during negotiations on coronavirus stimulus Infectious disease expert calls White House advisers herd immunity claims 'pseudoscience' 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 BidenMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' 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.