Capt. Brett Crozier, fired this week from command of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, joins a growing list of Navy officers who attempted to raise concerns about the safety of their ships and crew, only to pay with their jobs.
Crozier wrote a letter dated March 30 warning that an outbreak of the coronavirus on his ship was a threat to his crew of some 4,000 sailors unless they disembarked and quarantined.
“We are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily,” Crozier wrote. “Decisive action is required now.”
We do not know all the facts that prompted the letter. But we know that once it was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, the acting secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, relieved Crozier of command. Crozier, 50, had been a rising star in the officer corps. He will remain in the Navy at his current rank, though his career future is uncertain. In viral videos, Crozier’s sailors can be seen cheering him loudly as he disembarks the Roosevelt, alone, before driving away.
Navy experts believe that the cumulative effects of the service’s decisions over the past several years to punish those who speak out will result in silencing sailors with legitimate concerns about their health and safety.
“This may have the effect of chilling the responses of other commanding officers because it will be perceived, fairly or not, as a shoot the messenger scenario,” said James Stavridis, a retired admiral and former head of the United States Naval Institute, who called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the dismissal.
The Navy’s top officer, Adm. Mike Gilday, initially praised Crozier’s attempt to warn his superiors. But the next day, Thursday, Modly, the Navy’s civilian boss, reversed course, telling reporters that he fired Crozier because he lost confidence in the officer for not using a secure email network to properly route his complaint.
Crozier’s unclassified email wound up with 20 or 30 other individuals and at some point was provided to the Chronicle reporters. Modly said the public airing of the complaint had unnecessarily alarmed sailors and provided enemies with information that exposed weaknesses on one of the country’s most important warships.
As part of our 2019 investigation into the incidents in the Navy’s 7th Fleet, its largest overseas presence, ProPublica found repeated instances of frontline commanders warning superiors of risks the fleet was facing — a lack of training, exhausted crews, deteriorating ships and equipment. Those warnings, all sent through the normal chain of command, were met with indifference.
Disaster in the fleet struck in June 2017, after the USS Fitzgerald, a destroyer, collided with a cargo ship in the Sea of Japan. Two months later, a second destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, collided with an oil tanker in the Singapore Strait. The two accidents cost the Navy 17 sailors — the biggest loss of life in maritime collisions in more than 40 years.
Navy investigations laid blame on nearly the entire chain of command in the 7th Fleet, punishing commanders and sailors for failing to properly train and equip its crews and ships.
Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the head of the 7th Fleet, was fired. Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, who oversaw training, was forced from his job. Cmdr. Bryce Benson, captain of the Fitzgerald, was recommended for court-martial.
But ProPublica reported that all three men had repeatedly tried to warn higher-ups of dangerous safety issues in the vaunted fleet, based at Yokosuka, Japan. They argued to their superiors that the Navy was running ships in the 7th Fleet too hard, too fast. Their warnings were dismissed.
Benson, the Fitzgerald commander whose court-martial case was dismissed, said that Crozier “was right to strongly advocate for the safety of his crew and it was wrong for the SecNav [secretary of the Navy] to fire him for doing so.”
Senior leaders “continue to under-resource ships at sea and are slow to respond to commanders’ pleas for assistance,” said Benson, who is now retired. “From one tragedy to the next, senior Navy leaders continue to break faith with the fleet.”
Dismissing Crozier, Benson said, “sends a clear message to commanders: The authority and responsibility that you enjoy is yours alone and an absolute liability even when under resourced and thinly supported.”
Modly emphasized that he did not intend his actions to discourage officers from coming forward to report their concerns through the chain of command.
“I have no doubt in my mind that Capt. Crozier did what he thought was in the best interests of the safety and well-being of his crew. Unfortunately, it did the opposite,” Modly said at a press conference.
But Crozier’s firing has raised alarm anew that the Navy is more interested in its public image than in fixing problems raised by its sailors. It did not go unnoticed by fellow officers that Crozier was dismissed within two days of his letter becoming public. Such haste is unusual, and raised questions about the due process afforded to Crozier.
Some now believe that the cumulative effects of the Navy’s decisions over the past several years to punish those who speak out will silence sailors who have legitimate concerns about their health and safety.
“His removal sends a really strong message that coming forward will end people’s careers,” said Mandy Smithberger, a military expert at the Project on Government Oversight. “Before this I’d say that risk was more so implied through both social and professional retaliation. This is much more explicit.”
Crozier’s firing comes amid increased concern that the Pentagon is not acting quickly enough to protect whistleblowers. Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general for the Defense Department, testified that the agency has shown a reluctance to punish officials who take punitive action against whistleblowers.
“We have seen a disturbing trend in the DoD disagreeing with the results of our investigations or not taking disciplinary action in substantiated reprisal cases without adequate or persuasive explanations,” Fine testified in January to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. “Failure to take action sends a message to agency managers that reprisal will be tolerated and also to potential whistleblowers that the system will not protect them.”
Navy commanders may be fired at any time by their superiors. And the captains of Navy ships are uniquely responsible for any mishaps on their ships.
A study published earlier this year of more than 2,000 disciplinary cases found that Navy commanders were historically dismissed for “crimes of command” — such as a ship colliding with another vessel or running aground.
More lately, however, the study documented that it has become harder to tell if those punished are being disciplined less because of their performance and more because they had either internally or publicly called the Navy out for neglect.
“In the modern Navy,” wrote Capt. Michael Junge in the Naval War College Review, “a commander is most likely to be removed for personal misconduct or when the crime of command includes one or all of the following elements: death, press coverage, or significant damage to the Navy, whether materially or to its reputation.”
Why had she stayed mute for so many days about the torment her father was inflicting on thousands of immigrant children? What will happen to her if Michael Cohen flips?
.. doomed never to return to her privileged perch as a Manhattan society darling?
.. “It’s really easy for someone whose sole job in the White House is women and children to issue a statement — even Melania did it,”
.. “It just shows how fake Ivanka is,” Fox continued. “She’s crafted this whole image of herself that’s not actually her. And the real her is cooler, slightly more interesting, funnier. She curses like a sailor. She partied a lot when she was younger. She flashed a hot dog vendor when she was in eighth grade. She chain-smoked. Which is so opposite of the image she put out there.
.. “What you’re seeing now is the unmasking. She can’t control the narrative anymore because she’s so inauthentic. It has really come back to bite her.”
.. as the echoes of sobbing children snatched from parents fleeing violence collided with images of a whining, pampered child-president bragging about his crowd size and his bank account, all while he callously used helpless kids as hostages to get his wall.
.. Which means the first lady is like her husband in one unfortunate respect: In times of national turmoil, she makes it about herself.
.. “She was infatuated with the Kennedys,” Fox said.
.. She tried to present her brand as luminous, caring and classy — a champion of women and children with a carefully curated image over the years on Instagram, in a blog and in books.
Amid the dark hailstorm of her father, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, she sold herself as the sunny morning — the one who would temper her father’s retrogressive and sometimes wretched moves.
.. Introducing him at the 2016 Republican convention, Ivanka assured the crowd that he had “empathy and generosity,” as well as “kindness and compassion.”
.. it seemed like fan fiction.
.. a former top Trump administration official recently told me, “Donald Trump is the meanest man I’ve ever met.”
.. After her panic when he left her mother for Marla Maples — Ivanka worried she wouldn’t be able to keep the Trump name, and called him constantly — she spent her life fashioning herself, “Vertigo”-style, into his ideal.
.. no matter how hard Ivanka tried, Donald Trump thought she could be even more ideal. When she was a model, Fox writes, her father “suggested to friends that breast implants might help her along.
.. Maryanne Trump, Donald’s sister, urging him to talk Donald out of letting her get plastic surgery that young.
.. When his friend confronted him about it, he denied that she was getting implants. At the end of the call, he asked, ‘Why not, though?’”
.. Ivanka succeeded in being a Mini-Me. By 16, she trademarked her name with the intention of using it for everything from bras to brow liner to scrub masks. “There is a distinct genetic quality to Ivanka’s preternatural ability to self-promote,”
.. Ivanka ran into split-screen trouble with her gauzy and glam mommy-of-the-year Instagram posts during the refugee ban, the migrant crisis and the Palestinians dying at the Israeli border during her visit to the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
.. Her father is the all-consuming maw, what Fox calls “an infinite pit of need — a time-sucking vampire who fed off those around him to sustain his own vanity.”
.. Ivanka backed up the president’s fake narrative that it was Congress’s fault. When Daddy finally ended the pitiless policy that he imposed, she congratulated him on Twitter for white knighting it
.. The Trump family, of course, was seeing the problem as optics, not as a barbaric flouting of American values.
.. Donald and Ivanka are consumed with protecting their own brands. America’s? Not so much.
One woman’s account of clandestine meetings, financial transactions, and legal pacts designed to hide an extramarital affair.
.. At the time of the party, Trump had been married to the Slovenian model Melania Knauss for less than two years; their son, Barron, was a few months old. Trump seemed uninhibited by his new family obligations. McDougal later wrote that Trump “immediately took a liking to me, kept talking to me – telling me how beautiful I was, etc. It was so obvious that a Playmate Promotions exec said, ‘Wow, he was all over you – I think you could be his next wife.’ ”
.. Purchasing a story in order to bury it is a practice that many in the tabloid industry call “catch and kill.” This is a favorite tactic of the C.E.O. and chairman of A.M.I., David Pecker, who describes the President as “a personal friend.”
.. Six former A.M.I. employees told me that Pecker routinely makes catch-and-kill arrangements like the one reached with McDougal. “We had stories and we bought them knowing full well they were never going to run,”
.. George said that Pecker protected Trump. “Pecker really considered him a friend,” George told me. “We never printed a word about Trump without his approval.”
.. Pecker also used the unpublished stories as “leverage” over some celebrities in order to pressure them to pose for his magazines or feed him stories. Several former employees said that these celebrities included Arnold Schwarzenegger, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, and Tiger Woods.
.. McDougal wrote that Trump impressed her. “I was so nervous! I was into his intelligence + charm. Such a polite man,” she wrote.
.. All three women say that they were escorted to a bungalow at the hotel by a Trump bodyguard, whom two of the women have identified as Keith Schiller.
.. Over the course of the affair, Trump flew McDougal to public events across the country but hid the fact that he paid for her travel. “No paper trails for him,” she wrote. “In fact, every time I flew to meet him, I booked/paid for flight + hotel + he reimbursed me.”
.. In July, 2006, McDougal joined Trump at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, at the Edgewood Resort, on Lake Tahoe. At a party there, she and Trump sat in a booth with the New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and Trump told her that Brees had recognized her, remarking, “Baby, you’re popular.”
.. During the Lake Tahoe tournament, McDougal and Trump had sex, she wrote. He also allegedly began a sexual relationship with Clifford at the event.
.. Another adult-film actress, whose screen name is Alana Evans, claimed that Trump invited her to join them in his hotel room that weekend. A third adult-film performer, known as Jessica Drake, alleged that Trump asked her to his hotel room
.. During Trump’s relationship with McDougal, she wrote, he introduced her to members of his family and took her to his private residences. At a January, 2007, launch party in Los Angeles for Trump’s now-defunct liquor brand, Trump Vodka, McDougal, who was photographed entering the event, recalled sitting at a table with Kim Kardashian, Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Trump, Jr.,’s wife, Vanessa, who was pregnant.
.. At one point, Trump held a party for “The Apprentice” at the Playboy Mansion, and McDougal worked as a costumed Playboy bunny. “We took pics together, alone + with his family,” McDougal wrote. She recalled that Trump said he had asked his son Eric “who he thought was the most beautiful girl here + Eric pointed me. Mr. T said ‘He has great taste’ + we laughed!”
.. In Trump Tower, McDougal wrote, Trump pointed out Melania’s separate bedroom. He “said she liked her space,” McDougal wrote, “to read or be alone.”
.. McDougal’s account, like those of Clifford and other women who have described Trump’s advances, conveys a man preoccupied with his image. McDougal recalled that Trump would often send her articles about him or his daughter, as well as signed books and sun visors from his golf courses.
.. Trump also promised to buy McDougal an apartment in New York as a Christmas present. Clifford, likewise, said that Trump promised to buy her a condo in Tampa. For Trump, showing off real estate and other branded products was sometimes a prelude to sexual advances.
.. The decision was reinforced by a series of comments Trump made that McDougal found disrespectful, according to several of her friends. When she raised her concern about her mother’s disapproval to Trump, he replied, “What, that old hag?” (McDougal, hurt, pointed out that Trump and her mother were close in age.)
.. friend mentioned a relationship she had had with an African-American man. According to multiple sources, Trump remarked that the friend liked “the big black dick” and began commenting on her attractiveness and breast size. The interactions angered the friend and deeply offended McDougal.
..Crawford said, referring to Trump. “I said, ‘You know, if you had a physical relationship with him, that could be worth something about now.’ And I looked at her and she had that guilty look on her face.”
Palin remains critical: to a faction of the Republican Party, and to understanding the emergence of Donald Trump and Trumpism — the ideology created by the president’s most ardent supporters, though not necessarily by the president himself.
.. From the moment Palin entered the national scene, the praise for her on the right was heavily tied to her image.
.. Kathleen Parker said of her initial interest in Palin: “She was the antithesis and nemesis of the hirsute, Birkenstock-wearing sisterhood — a refreshing feminist of a different order who personified the modern successful working mother.”
Nowhere in the piece were Palin’s conservative viewpoints referenced; her views on, say, health care or school choice, or even abortion, went unmentioned. Palin’s problem, in Parker’s view, wasn’t her beliefs but her tendency to ramble. What mattered about the governor was what she could reflect back to a hungry Republican base: an “attractive, earnest [and] confident” woman in a position of power.
.. Palin said what the base was thinking.
- She accused Barack Obama of “palling around with terrorists.”
- She praised those willing to “screw the political correctness.” She cheered the birther movement promoted by one Donald Trump.
- As the keynote speaker at the first-ever National Tea Party Convention in February 2010, she taunted Democrats, “How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out?”
.. Palin was an avatar for how her supporters felt about themselves and the world they wanted to see, one they saw rapidly slipping away from them. Sure, she might be wrong, they seemed to say, but she’s like us. She is us.
.. her departure left an opening that was filled by Trump
.. Trump campaigned on the Palin model. In fact, he improved upon it. His identity was his trademark, rendering the constant shifts in policy goals and promises almost meaningless. His base saw in Trump what they wanted to see.
- .. Some saw a fighter who would stand up for them,
- others saw a vaunted truth-teller,
- and a few, truth be told, likely saw a potential white-nationalist hero.
And he gave it to them: the image, the veneer, the blank slate upon which their deeply held dreams
.. his base will not leave him, because to abandon Trump would not be to abandon the current president but to leave behind deeply held beliefs of their own... His popularity is cultural, not political, resilient to the notions of truth and fiction and to Trump’s own failures.