Pentagon chief has 'open mind' to reinstating fired Naval commander

Pentagon chief has 'open mind' to reinstating fired Naval commander
© CBS 8 San Diego/Defense Department

Secretary of Defense 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 on Thursday said that he has “an open mind” to the possibility of reinstating the fired commander of the Navy’s USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.

The ship’s former commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, was fired on April 2 after he warned in a letter of potentially dire consequences if most of the 4,800 crew members weren't evacuated from the vessel, where the coronavirus was rapidly spreading.

Then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly ousted Crozier when the letter was leaked to the media, prompting an investigation.

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“I directed that investigation a couple weeks ago; it concluded late last week. It is now with the Navy; it will come to me at some point in time. As I am in the chain of command I can't comment on it further, but I've got to keep an open mind with regard to everything,” Esper said on NBC’s "Today."

Modly resigned shortly after he relieved Crozier of duty, after which he gave an inflammatory speech aboard the Roosevelt defending his dismissal of the commander — who had been cheered by those on ship as he left it, according to video of the scene.

Asked if Crozier being reinstated would acknowledge that the initial firing was wrong, Esper would not comment but added, “We've got to take this one step at a time, let the investigation within the Navy conclude itself, if you will. As they brief it up we'll take things as we can, and we’ll make very reasoned opinions and judgments as this progresses.”

A day prior to Esper’s comments, reports emerged that Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday indicated that he may reinstate Crozier.

Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the admiral, told The Hill that “no final decisions have been made,” and “all options are on the table.”

As of Thursday morning, the Roosevelt had 655 sailors who have tested positive for COVID-19, with one death and at least five hospitalized in Guam, where the ship has been docked since late March.

To stop the spread of the illness, the Navy has evacuated more than 4,000 sailors from the aircraft carrier.