House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith on Wednesday backed the Navy’s recent decision to expand an initial inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, but maintained that the ship’s ousted captain should be reinstated.
The Washington Democrat last week called on Defense Secretary Mark Esper to reinstate Capt. Brett Crozier, who was cheered and applauded as he exited the ship following his removal, and said “it is clear [Capt. Crozier] only took such steps to protect his crew.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Smith told reporters during a phone conference that “on the question of whether or not Capt. Crozier is the right person to continue the command that they gave him in the first place, I believe that question should have been clearly answered to this point, and I think it should be answered in the affirmative.”
Capt. Crozier was ousted after a letter he wrote pleading for help for his coronavirus-stricken crew was published in the San Francisco Chronicle. Top military leaders in the Pentagon advised former acting Secretary Thomas Modly to await the results of an investigation before removing Capt. Crozier from command to no avail.
“From everything that’s come out and everything that I’ve seen, there was no reason to relieve him of his command,” Mr. Smith said.
Acting Navy Secretary James E. McPherson hours earlier announced his branch would continue the investigation into the coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier and said he needs additional information before making a decision about Capt. Crozier, who was fired by Mr. Modly, who himself lost his job over his handling of the matter.
“I do think it’s perfectly legitimate to extend the investigation about everything that happened with the Roosevelt,” Mr. Smith said.
“It was the first major outbreak within [the Department of Defense] in a difficult situation, so what happened?” he asked, posing a series of additional questions into the matter.
The aircraft carrier remains docked in Guam following a COVID-19 health check of all members of its crew.
As of Tuesday, at least 940 crew members of the Roosevelt have tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, and 29 have recovered.
Navy officials said this week that all members of the crew have been tested for the virus and sailors are not counted as “recovered” until two tests are taken where the results are negative.
Mr. Smith said that a “forensic analysis of [the outbreak] is enormously important, and I completely agree that that’s not something that you can get done in a week or two weeks or whatever it’s been.”