Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt Monday that its ousted commander, Capt. Brett Crozier, was "too naive or too stupid" to not realize that his letter pleading for help in battling a coronavirus outbreak onboard would be leaked to the press, according to a copy of his remarks obtained by CNN.

The big picture: Modly also floated the possibility that Crozier, who has since been diagnosed with coronavirus himself, leaked the letter deliberately. He called the act a "betrayal of trust, with me, with his chain of command."

  • 173 of the ship's crew members have now tested positive for the coronavirus, and 61% have been tested, per CNN. 2,000 have been evacuated and moved to shore.

What he said: "If he didn't think, in my opinion, that this information wasn't going to get out to the public, in this day and information age that we live in, then he was either ... too naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this. The alternative is that he did this on purpose," Modly said in the speech, which was aired over the ship's public address system.

  • "It was a betrayal. And I can tell you one other thing: because he did that he put it in the public's forum and it is now a big controversy in Washington, D.C."

Modly doubled down on the comments in a statement later Monday: "I have not listened to a recording of my remarks since speaking to the crew so I cannot verify if the transcript is accurate. The spoken words were from the heart, and meant for them." Modly said.

  • "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."

In multiple television interviews Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper defended Modly's decision to oust Crozier:

  • “It was based on his view that he had lost faith and confidence in the captain, based on his actions. It was supported by Navy leadership,” Esper said Sunday on CNN's State of the Union.

In a statement, Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), who served as a Navy commander for two decades, wrote that Modly should be fired.

  • "Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly's remarks to the crew show that he is in no way fit to lead our Navy through this trying time. Secretary Esper should immediately fire him."

Go deeper: Task & Purpose obtained audio of a portion of Modly's speech.

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