Senators urge formal probe of Navy carrier commander's firing over coronavirus plea

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of prominent Democratic senators formally requested on Friday that the Pentagon’s independent Inspector General investigate the Navy’s firing of the commander of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, who called for stronger measures to halt a coronavirus outbreak on board.

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Captain Brett Crozier was relieved of his command on Thursday after his scathing letter was leaked to the media.

“Given the extraordinary circumstances under which these events took place, we believe a closer examination by a neutral third party is warranted,” the senators wrote, according to a copy of the text seen by Reuters.

Reuters is first to report such a congressional request to the Inspector General’s office.

Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland led the push and were joined by 15 other U.S. senators, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris.

Acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told Reuters earlier on Friday that Crozier shared the letter too widely and questioned the commander’s judgment. Critics have accused Modly of firing Crozier because the letter embarrassed the Navy.

The backlash to Modly’s decision to fire Crozier has been intense.

In videos posted online, sailors on the Theodore Roosevelt applauded Crozier and hailed him as a hero, out to defend his crew - even at great personal cost to his career.

More than 100 personnel from the carrier have tested positive for the novel coronavirus so far, and that number is likely to increase given the close quarters under which they live and operate.

The senators, in their letter to the Inspector General’s office, noted “the remarkable show of support for CAPT Crozier by members of his crew,” and voiced concerns about whether his firing would impact morale and readiness in the Navy.

They also asked the Inspector General to investigate how the Navy responded to reports of the outbreak of the COVID-19 illness caused by the coronavirus aboard carrier.

“We are especially concerned about Navy readiness to support current and future deployments without all necessary precautionary measures and resources, such as for the USS Ronald Reagan and upcoming deployment of the USS Nimitz,” they wrote.

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Chris Reese and Bill Berkrot