Army Secretary James McPherson will be dropped to temporarily lead the Navy Department, Esper says. McPherson was confirmed to be Army No. 2 on March 23, a little more than two weeks ago.
In his resignation letter, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO, Modly Esper and President Donald Trump thanked them for their “trust” in him.
“More than anything, I owe all members of the Marine and Marine Corps team a lifetime of gratitude for the opportunity to serve them, and with them, once again,” Modly wrote in the brief letter addressed to Esper. “The men and women in the Navy̵
Modly was more loquacious in a memo to the force, admitting he had “lost situational awareness” during his address to Roosevelt’s crew.
“You are entitled to be angry with me about it,” Modly wrote in a memo obtained by POLITICO. “There is no excuse, but maybe a glimmer of understanding and hopefully empathy.”
“I’m deeply sorry for some of the words and how they spread across the media landscape like a wildfire,” Modly continued.
Later in the four-sided memo, Modly urged sailors not to be “scared” to address issues that are worrying about their immediate superiors, but noted that “there is a proper, polite and respectful way to do this.”
Trump on Tuesday afternoon said he had no role in Modly’s departure and created the former navy leader trying to go beyond the scandal.
“I don’t know him but I heard he’s a very good man,” Trump said of Modly. “The whole thing was very unfortunate.
“I had heard him [resigned] because he didn’t want to cause any disruption to our country, “Trump added.” And I think in a lot of ways, it was a very selfless thing for him to do. “
Trump also appeared to back up his comments on Monday when he said he planned to get involved in the Navy’s decision to fire the ship’s commander, Captain Brett Crozier.
“They’ll just take it under regular Navy channels to see what they want to do,” Trump said of Crozier’s future.
Modly, who dismissed Crozier on Thursday, late Monday, was forced to apologize to the crew after calling Crozier’s decision to send a letter requesting assistance to a wide range of “naive” and “stupid” naval personnel.
Esper “did not care” Modly’s comments to the carrier and instructed the acting secretary on Monday to apologize to the crew and to Crozier, says another senior defense official.
After Modly offered his departure, Esper spoke with other senior leaders in the department about naming a replacement, the other official said. Esper then went to the president to get his approval of electing McPherson for the job.
At the same time, Esper’s staff was busy calling lawmakers to try to speed up the confirmation of Kenneth Braithwaite, the former ambassador to Norway who has been nominated as the permanent secretary of the Navy, according to a former defense attorney with knowledge of the conversation. His nomination has been transferred to the Senate but has disappeared for weeks without action.
Modly’s departure ends an extraordinary 24 hours after Monday morning’s leak of the operating naval leader’s address to the crew at Roosevelt while the vessel is bound in Guam. Modly, who dismissed the ship’s commander Captain Brett Crozier on Thursday, late Monday was forced to apologize to the crew after calling Crozier’s decision to send a letter requesting assistance to a broad set of Navy personnel “naive” and “stupid.”
Modly’s remarks, which sailors recorded and leaked to the media on Monday, prompted more than a dozen members of Congress to demand that Modly’s resign.
“I want to apologize to the Navy for my latest comments on the crew of the TR,” Modly said in a statement Monday night. “Let me be clear, I don’t think Captain Brett Crozier is naive or stupid. I think, and always thought him the opposite.”
Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus criticized Crozier’s remarks, noting in an interview that “the notion that a civilian leader would go on a warship and say these things about a captain who was obviously loved and who had done this for his crew only defies imagination.”
Mabus blamed Trump for cultivating an environment where “the only people who seem to thrive are people who either emulate or suck up to him.” He accused the president of politicizing the military and interfering with the military’s regular legal system.
“The tone comes from the top,” he said.
The senior defender said that when Modly made his comments to the crew, the Naval Academy graduate and former helicopter pilot “returned to their roots as a sailor.”
“He allowed his time in uniform to color his comments,” the official said. “After seeing the level of effort that went into this, he wanted to be very direct towards the crew.”