Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly testifies on Capitol Hill in December. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly apologized Monday for calling Capt. Brett Crozier, the ousted commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, "too naive or too stupid" over his letter pleading for help following a coronavirus outbreak onboard.

The big picture: His apology came after President Trump told a news briefing earlier Monday he would "get involved" following a leak of Modly's remarks, obtained by CNN, to the ship's crew on Crozier — who has since been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

What he's saying: "Let me be clear, I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naive nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite," Modly said in his statement obtained by several news outlets.

"We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care. Captain Crozier is smart and passionate. I believe, precisely because he is not naive and stupid, that he sent his alarming email with the intention of getting it into the public domain in an effort to draw public attention to the situation on his ship. I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused ... [and for] any pain my remarks may have caused."
— Thomas Modly

What they're saying: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) issued a statement calling for Modly to be removed from his position over his remarks to the crew, saying: "I no longer have confidence in Acting Secretary Modly’s leadership of the Navy."

Flashback: Modly said in his speech to the crew, which was aired over the ship's public address system, that if Crozier didn't think his letter would be to be leaked, "then he was either ... too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this. The alternative is that he did this on purpose."

  • He also called the letter "a betrayal," adding "because he did that he put it in the public's forum and it is now a big controversy in Washington, D.C."

Go deeper: Acting Navy head called fired aircraft carrier captain "stupid" in address to crew

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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