House panel seeks documents on aircraft carrier's coronavirus outbreak

House panel seeks documents on aircraft carrier's coronavirus outbreak

A House subcommittee chairman is asking the Pentagon for documents related to the coronavirus outbreak aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier.

Rep. Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchLawmakers seek answers on armed services' plans to address gun tracking Left warns Pelosi they'll take down Biden infrastructure bill Pelosi signals she won't move .5T bill without Senate-House deal MORE (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform National Security Subcommittee, is requesting the information after Capt. Brett Crozier was fired as commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after a letter he wrote warning about the outbreak on the ship was leaked to the media.

“Although it seems Capt. Crozier may have operated outside his chain of command, it appears that he did what he thought was best for the health and safety of his crew and the readiness of his ship to successfully carry-out their mission,” Lynch wrote in a letter Tuesday to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to update Americans on omicron; Congress back Former defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Major Russia weapons test stokes tensions MORE. “I certainly do not want his removal to have a chilling effect on military leaders who have been entrusted to protect the men and women under their command in this challenging operational environment.”

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Crozier’s letter, in which he pleaded for permission to offload a majority of the Roosevelt’s crew, kicked off a firestorm, and his subsequent firing has fanned the flames.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, in particular, sparked criticism after he gave a speech suggesting Crozier was “naive” or “stupid.” Modly initially said he stood by the speech and then, hours later, apologized “for any confusion this choice of words may have caused.”

As of Monday, 173 sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for the virus out of the 61 percent of the crew that has been tested. 

Lynch specifically requested documents or communications related to the Roosevelt’s early March port visit of Danang, Vietnam, and the subsequent coronavirus outbreak to or from several top officials, including Esper, Modly, Crozier, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and other top naval officers.

Lynch asked for the documents by April 17.

Navy officials have defended the decision to go forward with the Danang visit, saying it’s unclear if that’s where the coronavirus on the ship originated. At the time of the port call, there were 16 confirmed cases of the virus in Vietnam.

Lynch also previously requested the Pentagon provide information on its ability to provide personal protective equipment to service members to protect against the virus. That March 26 letter has not received a response, he said in Tuesday’s letter. 

Tuesday’s letter also requested an inventory of medical supplies and personal protective equipment — including coronavirus tests, hospital tests, ventilators and respiratory masks — geographic combatant commands need to buy for worst, best and most likely scenarios.

Lynch asked for that list by Friday.

“Without essential medical supplies and personal protective equipment, the coronavirus crisis could expand rapidly from a medical risk for DOD personnel to an operational and strategic threat to our national security interests,” he wrote. “It is critical for Congress to have a complete understanding of any equipment or capability limitations the department and military planners have identified so that supplemental appropriations can be made in forthcoming legislation to support the health and readiness of our military forces.”