Overnight Defense: Trump 'may look into' dismissal of Navy captain | Acting Navy chief stands by speech calling ousted captain 'stupid' | Dems call for chief's firing | Hospital ship to take coronavirus patients

Overnight Defense: Trump 'may look into' dismissal of Navy captain | Acting Navy chief stands by speech calling ousted captain 'stupid' | Dems call for chief's firing | Hospital ship to take coronavirus patients
© Greg Nash

Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.


THE TOPLINE: President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE on Monday said he may look into the dismissal of a Naval captain who was relieved of his duty aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt after warning of an outbreak of coronavirus on board in a letter that leaked to the press.

The controversy surrounding the exit of Capt. Brett Crozier was amplified on Monday when acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told the sailors aboard the ship that the captain was "naive” or "stupid" to think the letter would not leak.

What Trump said: Trump told reporters he hadn't seen the statement from Modly, but described what he'd heard about it as "strong" and "rough." He suggested he may personally look into the matter because he believes both Modly and Crozier have good reputations outside the Roosevelt incident.

"I may look into it only from the standpoint that something should be resolved because I’m hearing good things about both people," he said.

"I may just get involved, if it’s ok with you," he continued. "And I’m good, believe it or not, at settling arguments. I’m good at settling these arguments. So I may look into it in detail and I‘ll be able to figure it out very fast."

Trump asserted that Crozier was in the wrong because the letter may have made family members of sailors aboard the Roosevelt anxious and it "shows weakness."

"There’s nothing weak about us now. Not anymore," he said. "We have the strongest military we’ve ever had. That ship is incredible."

Navy chief under scrutiny: Modly is coming under fire for a speech he gave defending his decision to fire the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier in which he said the captain may have been “stupid” or “naive.”

The speech was delivered aboard the Roosevelt, and a transcript, as well as audio, was leaked to several media outlets Monday.

Crozier was relieved from command of the Roosevelt after a letter he wrote to Navy leaders pleading for help with a coronavirus outbreak aboard the ship was leaked to the media.

In the speech, Modly said that if Crozier didn’t think the letter would leak, he was “too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this.”

Alternatively, Modly said, if Crozier leaked the letter on purpose, that would be a “serious violation” of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

He also called Crozier’s action a “betrayal” and warned sailors that there is “no situation” in which they should go to the media, alleging “the media has an agenda” that “depends on which side of the political aisle they sit.”

Modly stands by remarks: In a statement Monday afternoon, Modly stood by the speech.

"I have not listened to a recording of my remarks since speaking to the crew so I cannot verify if the transcript is accurate,” Modly said.

“The spoken words were from the heart, and meant for them,” Modly continued. “I stand by every word I said, even, regrettably any profanity that may have been used for emphasis.  Anyone who has served on a Navy ship would understand. I ask, but don’t expect, that people read them in their entirety."

What does Esper think?: The Pentagon isn’t saying.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman was asked several times during a Pentagon briefing whether Esper still has confidence in Modly.

Hoffman would only say he has not yet talked to Esper about the subject and directed reporters to comments Esper made Sunday, before Modly’s speech created a firestorm.

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Esper said he has “full faith and confidence in” Modly.

Lawmakers lose confidence in Modly: Several lawmakers called for Modly to resign or be fired Monday.

Most were Democrats, but the growing chorus also included independent Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashIncoming GOP lawmaker shares video of hotel room workout, citing 'Democrat tyrannical control' Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day Romney congratulates Biden after victory MORE (Mich.).

“The acting Navy secretary is unfit for office. He should resign or be removed immediately,” Amash tweeted.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who last week called for an inspector general investigation into the situation on Roosevelt, tweeted Modly should be “should be removed unceremoniously for these shocking remarks.”

Reps. Ted LieuTed W. LieuHouse Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress Democrats to determine leaders after disappointing election Mark Cuban asks voters to 'reconsider' donating to Georgia run-off elections MORE (D-Calif.) and Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoCongress: Support the ARC Act to prevent amputations Hispanic Caucus endorses Castro for Foreign Affairs gavel Favorites emerge as Latino leaders press Biden to appoint 5 Hispanics to Cabinet MORE (D-Ariz.), who similarly called for an inspector general investigation last week, on Monday wrote a letter to Esper calling for Modly to be fired.

In a separate statement, Gallego said the speech, which he called an "outrage," also "revealed the true nature of the firing: spiteful ass covering."


In other coronavirus news...


Army pauses basic training: The Army on Monday paused sending new recruits to basic training for at least two weeks in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“In concert with guidance from the Department of the Army, along with expert assessments from the COVID-19 threat, decisions have been made to pause the shipment of trainees to basic combat training,” U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command head Gen. Paul Funk told reporters at the Pentagon.

Funk added that the pause is “conditions based” and will not affect those already in basic training.

The new rules also will not affect sending trainees to advanced individual training once they graduate basic.


Comfort now taking coronavirus patients: President Trump has agreed to allow the USNS Comfort to treat coronavirus patients, New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoDreaming of space exploration? You're better off riding bikes Cuomo likens COVID-19 to the Grinch: 'The season of viral transmission' For Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court upholds religious liberty MORE (D) said Monday.

"I spoke to the president and he has agreed to our request to treat #COVID patients on the USNS Comfort," Cuomo tweeted. "This means 1,000 additional beds staffed by federal personnel. This will provide much-needed relief to our over stressed hospital systems."

Shortly before Cuomo's tweet, the Pentagon said some patients on board the Comfort and its sister ship in Los Angeles, the Mercy, have already tested positive for the virus.

“Have we had patients who ultimately were determined to have coronavirus on the hospital ships? Yes,” Joint Staff surgeon Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs said at a press briefing.



The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will host a virtual event on “Presidential Leadership in Times of Crisis: Foreign Policy, National Security, and Domestic Challenges” at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/2JL1BqI

The Wilson Center will host a webcast on “Disinformation Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic” at 3 p.m. https://bit.ly/2V65SKK



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