‘There Will Be Losses’: How a Captain’s Plea Exposed a Rift in the Military

But Mr. Modly, a Naval Academy graduate and former Navy helicopter pilot who was hoping to become the permanent Navy secretary, was still worried about what the president wanted, officials said. Mr. Modly’s predecessor, Richard V. Spencer, was fired for opposing the president’s intervention in support of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL charged with war crimes who became a darling of Mr. Trump.

During a phone conversation with one adviser, Mr. Modly suddenly interrupted and said, according to a person familiar with the discussion, “Oh, breaking, the president wants him fired.” The person surmised that Mr. Modly had received a text message informing him of the president’s views.

On April 2, Mr. Modly called Admiral Baker, Captain Crozier’s immediate boss on the Roosevelt, and asked him if he knew about the letter in advance. Admiral Baker said that he did not, and that he would have told Captain Crozier not to send it. As Mr. Modly explained in an interview he later gave to the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, he decided to fire Captain Crozier after that conversation.

Later that morning, Mr. Modly told Admiral Gilday, General Milley and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper that he had decided to fire Captain Crozier even before an investigation was conducted. The three told him they would publicly support his decision, despite the reservations of General Milley and Admiral Gilday.

Representative Adam Smith, the Washington Democrat who is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, condemned the move, as did three other Democrats on the panel. But they acknowledged that Captain Crozier might have mishandled the situation.

“Throwing the commanding officer overboard without a thorough investigation is not going to solve the growing crisis aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt,” the lawmakers said in a statement. “What’s more, we are very concerned about the chilling effect this dismissal will have on commanders throughout the Department of Defense.”

The dismissal and subsequent investigation hit the ship’s medical department hard right away. The same day Captain Crozier walked off the ship for the last time, Adm. Robert P. Burke, the Navy’s second-highest admiral, called the senior medical officer aboard the carrier as part of his investigation. Admiral Burke criticized the doctor, saying he had failed as a leader. In interviews, two crew members said Admiral Burke’s tone was hostile.

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