Navy Captain Firing: Pressure Mounts to Remove Leader Thomas Modly

Even Mr. Trump, who initially backed Mr. Modly’s handling of the issue, seemed to be having second thoughts on Monday. “I may look into it,” the president told reporters, “from the standpoint that something should be resolved.”

The president liked the dismissal of Captain Crozier and had told aides before the captain was removed from command that the writing of the letter looked “weak.” Mr. Trump is less thrilled with the controversy that has followed, aides said, but the president does not appear motivated to bring in yet another acting Navy secretary.

Mr. Esper, as the civilian head of the Defense Department, can fire Mr. Modly, as he did in November when the prior Navy secretary ran afoul of Mr. Trump over the president’s action to protect a Navy SEAL accused of a war crime. But Mr. Esper will not do so without getting approval from Mr. Trump, Defense Department officials said.

The issue has reached a boiling point as a number of lawmakers say they have lost confidence in Mr. Modly. They were mad last week when he fired Captain Brett E. Crozier after the captain wrote his letter to Navy officials asking for more help to fight coronavirus aboard the Roosevelt. But Mr. Modly’s decision to then fly the 8,000 miles to Guam, where the ship is docked, and deliver a 15-minute tirade at the crew has infuriated members of Congress, military families and even senior Defense Department civilians and military officers.

“Acting Secretary Modly’s decision to address the sailors on the Roosevelt and personally attack Captain Crozier shows a tone-deaf approach more focused on personal ego than one of the calm, steady leadership we so desperately need in this crisis,” said Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington. “I no longer have confidence in Acting Secretary Modly’s leadership of the Navy and believe he should be removed from his position.”

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