- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2020

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on Friday announced the panel is launching a separate investigation into the outbreak of COVID-19 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which saw roughly 1,000 infections among its crewmembers.

The announcement comes just hours after the Navy moved to uphold the firing of the commanding officer of the ship, Capt. Brett Crozier, following a preliminary investigation into his handling of the outbreak. He was fired in April after a letter he wrote pleading for help for his coronavirus-stricken crew was leaked to the media.

“The severity of the COVID spread on the Roosevelt, coupled with the fact that it was the first major outbreak DoD faced, warranted thorough investigation,” Rep. Adam Smith, Washington State Democrat and chairman of the panel said in a statement.

“The findings in the Navy’s extended investigation makes it clear that the Navy did not respond the way they should have, or as quickly as they should have, to adequately address the outbreak.”

The ship was eventually forced to dock in Guam as the case count rose. After Capt. Crozier’s dismissal in early April, then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned over his handling of the matter, which included a controversial visit to the Roosevelt during which he seemed to suggest Capt. Crozier was “stupid” for writing the letter.

A preliminary Pentagon investigation into Capt. Crozier’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak among his crew members concluded that the respected captain made other poor decisions in responding to the outbreak.

In a statement later Friday, Pentagon officials said Defense Secretary Mark Esper stands firmly behind the Navy’s decision. The Navy has not yet made the report public.

But the chairman said that Capt. Crozier is not solely responsible for the outbreak that captured global headlines, and resulted in the death of one sailor.

“The Department’s civilian leadership portrayed Captain Crozier’s decision-making aboard the Roosevelt as the critical weakness in the Navy’s response,” he said, “but the truth is that civilian leadership was also to blame.”

“Civilian leadership at the Department of the Defense is crucial to our national security, and as such they must be held accountable as we move forward.”

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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