Transcript

Secretary of the Navy Braithwaite and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gilday Hold a Press Briefing on the Results of the USS Theodore Roosevelt Command Investigation

June 19, 2020
Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite; Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael M. Gilday

STAFF:  All right everybody, good afternoon.  We'll go ahead and start with some opening remarks from Secretary Braithwaite and then CNO Gilday will go ahead and make some remarks and then we'll open up the floor for questions.  Mr. Secretary, over to you.

SECRETARY OF THE NAVY KENNETH J. BRAITHWAITE:  Thank you, Commander, very much.  Good afternoon.  From the moment that I began serving as the Secretary of the Navy three weeks ago, I have been committed to ensuring that the investigation into the USS Theodore Roosevelt's COVID response was an unflinching examination of what happened and how it happened.

As a career naval officer, I recognize that the Navy must follow the facts in order to learn from this unprecedented challenge.  That investigation is concluded and today we are releasing the investigation report publicly.  I am satisfied that it was conducted in an extremely thorough and fair manner. 

Moreover, I fully support its findings’ recommendations and I'd like to take this time to commend the investigation team, led by Admiral Burke under the direction of our CNO Admiral Gilday on the work that they did under very demanding conditions.

But before I turn over the podium to our Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Gilday, to discuss the findings of the investigation in detail, there are a few people that I would like to recognize. 

First, I'd like to thank Governor Lou Guerrero of Guam for her tremendous support that she and the people of Guam provided the crew of Theodore Roosevelt and the Navy.  Her leadership throughout this entire episode really stands out and is an inspiring example of patriotism, partnership and service.  As such, the Department has awarded her the Distinguished Public Service Medal.

I'd also like to commend Rear Admiral John Menoni, the Commander of Joint Region Marianas, as well as Captain Jeffrey Grimes, the Commanding Officer of Naval Base Guam.  Their outstanding efforts greatly contributed to the health, safety and recovery of the crew of USS Theodore Roosevelt.  I am authorizing each of them to be awarded the Legion of Merit for their meritorious actions.

Finally, today I'd like to remember Chief Charles Robert Thacker, the lone T.R. sailor who died of the disease in April.  I just yesterday sent his widow A01 Samantha Thacker a note to offer my personal condolences.  Our entire Navy mourns with her and her family and with Chief Thacker's shipmates.

I'd now like to turn it over to our Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday.  Admiral?

CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.  Over the course of the past two months, the Navy has conducted a command investigation into the events surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.  That investigation was led by Vice -- by the Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Bob Burke.

Today, after carefully reviewing the command investigation, we're here to brief you on its findings.  In my review, I considered the following key tenets and grounded my conclusions in them.  Number one, the responsibility of command at sea.  Number two, the primacy of the chain of command.  And lastly, the standards of performance in command.

Our nation's laws and U.S. Navy regulations from -- form the basis for command at sea, without which our Navy could not perform its most critical functions.  These both clearly state that every commanding officer has the responsibility and the authority to make decisions and then to communicate up the chain of command.

The responsibility of command is absolute and we take our C.O.s performance very seriously.  We place a great amount of trust and confidence in our commanding officers and rely on them to manage risk and to make decisions and to communicate openly and honestly with their chain of command, especially in crisis.

Forthright, fearless and clear communication up and down the chain of command is essential to effective military operations, particularly when faced with the dynamic and novel threat such as COVID-19.  I am keenly aware that the actions of those involved must be judged understanding the unprecedented nature of this challenge, the difficulties involved with evolving guidance, and the fast pace of the crisis.

However, after a thorough review, I have determined to take the following actions. 

First, the promotion for the Strike Group Commander Rear Admiral Baker to two stars will be delayed pending further review. 

Second, I will not reassign Captain Brett Crozier as the Commanding Officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, nor will he be eligible for future command.  Captain Crozier will be reassigned. 

While I previously believe that Captain Crozier should be reinstated following his relief in April after conducting an initial investigation, the much broader, deeper investigation that we conducted in the weeks following that had a much deeper scope and it is my belief that both Admiral Baker and Captain Crozier fell well short of what we expect of those in command.  Had I known then what I know today, I would have not made that recommendation to reinstate Captain Crozier.  Moreover, if Captain Crozier were still in command today, I would be relieving him. 

Captain Crozier's primary responsibility was the safety and the well-being of the crew so that the ship could remain as operationally ready as possible.  In reviewing both Admiral Baker and Captain Crozier's actions, they did not do enough soon enough to -- to fulfill their primary obligation and they did not effectively carry out our guidelines to prevent spread of the virus.  They were slow egressing sailors off the ship and they failed to move sailors to available, safer environments quickly. 

Additionally, Captain Crozier exercised questionable judgment when he released sailors from quarantine on the ship, which put his crew at higher risk and may have increased the spread of the virus aboard the Theodore Roosevelt. 

When obstacles arose, both failed to tackle the problem head on and to take charge.  And in a number of instances, they placed crew comfort in front of crew safety.  Ultimately, they were driven by the problem instead of driving decisions.

As Captain Crozier stated in his e-mail, he should have been more decisive when the ship pulled into Guam.  He also said that he was ultimately responsible for his ship and his crew, and I agree.

In the end, the e-mail and the letter sent by Captain Crozier were unnecessary.  Actions were already underway to acquire CDC-compliant off-base hotel rooms for the crew before he sent that e-mail.

While it is rare for the CO of any ship to directly communicate three levels above them in the chain of command, if they do, they must ensure that all other means of communication within the chain of command have been thoroughly exhausted, and they have a full understanding of all the facts, and that they include all members of their chain of command in that communication.

Before I take your questions, I'd like to speak directly to a few groups.  As the secretary mentioned, much help went into supporting TR.  And I can't thank enough -- I can't thank everyone enough for their efforts. 

The governor of Guam certainly helped obtain safe lodging for the crew.  Naval Base Guam helped accommodate more than 2,000 sailors ashore in less than a week.  Expeditionary medical teams from Okinawa helped care for and treat the crew.  And the Republic of Korea dedicated support to help us test samples from the crew at scale.

To our commanding officers, let me be very clear.  We expect you to fire a red flare to your chain of command when necessary.  We also expect you to be men and women of decisive action.  You must adapt in the face of adversity.  You must exercise ingenuity in crisis and communicate effectively up and down the chain of command.  After all, it's your ship and it's your crew.

To the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, you are underway today in the Philippine Sea executing the mission of which you were assigned, and we support you.  While you rightly supported Captain Crozier as your commanding officer, it is because of what he didn't do that I have chosen him not -- that I've chosen not to reinstate him as your CO.

And to the secretary's point, I also offer my deepest sympathies to Chief Thacker's family, friends and shipmates.  We mourn his loss and stand alongside you as you continue to grieve.

And with that, we are ready to take your questions.

STAFF:  Bob, I'll start with you.

Q:  Thank you.  A question for Admiral Gilday in your description of what you found -- the flaws you found in Captain Crozier's actions and inactions, as you put it.  I wonder why it is that you were unable to see those problems when you reviewed it the first time.  And were you -- were you actually wrong in what you saw or what happened?

ADM. GILDAY:  So let me -- let me talk about that initial investigation and let be clear upfront.  The determination that I just mentioned, about his not being reinstated in command and the action -- the -- holding the Strike Group commander's promotion in abeyance, that's not about the e-mail that he sent and it's certainly not about the fact that it leaked.

The initial investigation took a narrow look at why he sent that e-mail.  And we took -- we took the facts, and I followed the facts from that narrowly scoped investigation.  And I was tasked to take a look at those facts against then-Acting Secretary Modly's justification for relieving him.  And I did not feel that the facts supported the justification. 

The justification included the -- included assertions that Captain Crozier went outside the chain of command in the e-mail.  He said that he went to the media in the e-mail.  At one point, he said that the media was included in the chain of command.  He -- he opined that the e-mail was handled recklessly and that's why it leaked.

Captain Crozier hit send once on that e-mail.  Captain Crozier did not leak that e-mail or intend for it to be -- be leaked.  So at that time, I felt that the facts did not justify relief based on the narrow scope. 

Again, had I known then what I know today, I'd be -- I would have relieved him back then.  At that time, the Acting Secretary of the Navy McPherson felt that the investigation should be broader, increased in scope, go all the way back to the decision to pull the ship into Vietnam, the time in port at Vietnam, the transit back to Guam, and the time in port at Guam.

And so, that gave us a much -- a much clearer view of Captain Crozier's performance in command.  And as I mentioned earlier, I mentioned three, kind of, primary lenses through which I view the investigation.  And the last one, and really the most critical right now with respect to this broader investigation, was standards of performance in command and decision-making in crisis.

STAFF:  Jennifer, over to you.

Q:  So are we to understand that basically -- that COVID would not have spread onboard the TR as quickly as it did if Captain Crozier had taken certain measures?  Are you blaming him for the spread of COVID because he was slow to react?  And do you believe that this letter was some sort of covering himself from those actions?

ADM. GILDAY:  So let me -- let me take the second question first.  So in terms of the e-mail and the letter that he sent, when he sent -- hit send on that -- when he hit send on that e-mail, six hours before, the governor of Guam had already agreed to allow us to use hotel rooms. 

The only requirement that she had at that point -- and as that -- this issue had been worked -- this was on a Monday.  So on the preceding Sunday and Saturday there were conversations between the regional commander and the governor.  And then on Sunday, the hotel association was brought into the discussion. 

By Monday, she agreed to open up the hotels.  The hotel association was supportive.  The only thing she required was a call from a four-star.  So within that day, there was a call from Admiral Aquilino that then opened up the hotels the following day.

So my points about checking the facts before you -- before you fire a flare to the chain of command.  Captain Crozier was aware that those negotiations were ongoing.  It was only the day before on Sunday that he levied the requirement for not just 4,000 beds but for 4,000 hotel rooms. 

And so, when he hit -- when -- when the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet received that e-mail, he reached out and immediately talked out to Admiral Baker and Captain Crozier.  And his question was, what else do you need me to do that we're not doing now? 

And the response was to move faster on the hotels.

Aquilino said, look, we are making up to 2,000 beds available off the ship so that you can release those -- you can release those -- you can release people off the ship, get them in a safer place.  We can begin to get them healthy.  We can begin to clean the ship more thoroughly and then we can restore to normal operations as quickly as possible.

And so that -- the reason why Crozier send the e-mail was because he felt when he sent it that we weren't moving fast enough on the hotels, but based on what I just said those wheels were well in motion. 

The outside support from other echelons of the chain of command besides working the hotel issue included commanders reaching out to the Republic of Korea so that we could then process testing samples at scale, up to 1,000 a day, military airlift being stationed in Guam with the sole purpose of that aircraft and the aircrew to run those samples back and forth to the peninsula of Korea so that we could turn 300 to 500 samples a day. 

Bringing a medical team of 50 plus people from Okinawa to support, to augment the small medical team on TR.  Examples of other activity that were going on.  I really felt that there were a few key issues here with respect to what I believe to be an almost paralysis of that command team from the time they pulled in port until the time that we were able to get the hotels. 

During the transit itself I didn't feel like they followed all the guidelines as thoroughly as they should.  There was some things that they absolutely did right.  We found that our determination is that the COD flights, for example, that came out of the Philippines, the five flights -- that they weren't the vector of infection on the ship.  We ruled that out based on testing that we did, and symptoms tracing it -- we were doing on those aircrews after they arrived on TR. 

I thought that they could have done a much better job of physical distancing.  I think you saw indications of that when Crozier left the ship and the crew packed together.  There was not -- that was not a primary measure that was -- that we viewed as critically important.  And again, he did a bunch of things right.  I think he could have did better than -- I'm not grounding the relief based on the fact that I think social distancing could have been better. 

I do think that the Naval Base Guam moved mountains to make beds available, and so those beds in terms of the specifications that were placed six feet apart, 72 square feet were allotted for each sailor and so, although it wasn't individual rooms, it was the best that we had. 

Now, there were also hotel rooms on the base that were made available, there was vacant housing that was made available, there were barracks that were made available, there were ships that had excess berthing that we were going to make available as well. 

And so, the naval base was working at speed to make beds available every day.  On the day that Crozier had hit send on the e-mail, the 24 hours in that period there were 700 beds unfilled, there were 500 the day before, there were 300 the day before that.  So if I go back to the primary responsibility of the CO is the -- was the safety and well-being of the crew so that we could move them to a better place and get the ship back to its full operational capability as soon as possible. 

I was not impressed by the slow egress off the ship, the lack of a plan to do so, the Seventh Fleet Commander’s demand for a plan that he didn't receive until the day Crozier got relieved.  That was six, seven days in to the port visit. 

So I found both from a standpoint of planning and execution that they fell well short.  They also made the decision on Sunday to lift quarantine in the aft portion of the ship.  So there are 1,000 people in the aft portion of the ship, they lifted quarantine, and so they comingled those members on the ship. 

Again, it would have made sense to me that if you're going to do that -- if you need to relieve some of that pressure that they would have filled those -- some of those 700 beds ashore.  That decision, in my view, was one of comfort over safety. 

And again, safety was thing one -- and I think there were other decisions that were made.  Some of them self-limiting in terms of getting people ashore that had everything to do with comfort over safety. 

STAFF:  All right, Barbara.

Q:  Admiral Gilday, you're laying out a number of things that you saw at the time that concerned you -- paralysis of command.  Just things lining up one after another that you observed as this process is going on. 

So what I don't understand is why did the Navy then simply inquire in to the e-mail?  Why did -- if you knew it, Admiral Burke knew it.  So my question is, how is it not a conclusion that the Navy was basically investigating the wrong -- not the full problem? 

And Mr. Secretary, after Admiral Gilday, if I could just ask you as well, it's -- and I realize you came after this, sir, but it seems the Navy knew all along that there were a series of problems.  Did nobody tell you, but you seem to have some awareness of it?  And what did the Navy hear from Captain Crozier?  Did they interview him?  What explanation did he have? 

ADM. GILDAY:  So my awareness, Admiral Burke's awareness, Admiral Aquilino's awareness of those problems with decision-making and rapid egress -- those were never visible to us until we did the deeper investigation. 

So ... 

Q:  Is that not a problem?  I’m serious.

ADM. GILDAY:  ... so if I go back to -- at this -- at echelon one in the Navy, my questions are to the Pacific Fleet Commander, what do you need?  As an example he needs authority to be able to use mil air to take those samples to Korea, we took care of that.  We needed to order people from Okinawa to Guam, we took care of that.  Things that Admiral Aquilino was doing at his level and the Seventh Fleet commander was doing at his level -- were all in support of Crozier. 

I go back to Crozier's e-mail where he says, command is absolute.  It's my ship, and it's my crew.  And I believe it should have also been his plan and his plan to execute -- and all other echelons are in support of that command.  Based on all of the examples I gave you, the testing in Korea, the spaces that were becoming available on Naval Base Guam, the negotiations on the hotel, the medical teams from Okinawa.  So ... 

Q:  Should Admiral Aquilino have known more than he did?  How -- I guess I don't understand how is it up and down, nobody knew?  And what did Captain Crozier -- was he interviewed?  What did he have to say?  How does nobody know? 

ADM. GILDAY:  Captain Crozier has never said in his e-mail -- you never saw the line – he certainly said I need these things, what he never said was I am doing these things.  This was all about what Crozier failed to do within his span of control.  I looked at the span of control of the Commander of Pacific Fleet, I looked at the span of control of the Commander of Seventh Fleet.  I did not see those problems.  We wouldn’t necessarily see those issues bubble up unless Crozier raised them. 

If he had a problem, let's say, he thought that the accommodations in the gym with the – with the beds six feet apart, he didn't like that.  That's one of the reasons he didn't send people ashore at speed, because he wanted the hotel rooms.  We didn't have the hotel rooms, the best we had were the facilities that I mentioned a few minutes ago, use them as best you can.  Back to thing one, safety of the crew. 

Baker and Crozier were talking to the Seventh Fleet Commander every day.  If they had issues, they should have raised them.  If he fearlessly communicated with that e-mail that he sent, then I'd never disagree with his fearlessly sending the e-mail.  Then you certainly should have just -- just the same, fearlessly communicated issues every day during those video teleconferences.

STAFF:  All right, we'll take a few questions from the phone.  We'll go to Missy Ryan from the Post.

Q:  Hey, sorry, it’s is Paul (inaudible) jumping in for Missy.  Can you hear me?  Hello?

Admiral, I just wanted to ask whether -- I think the impression will probably be from a lot of people on the TR that essentially this is blaming the captain and the admiral for the failings of wider Navy leadership, that should have more attuned and prepared for what was going on, and I was wondering if you could speak to that.

ADM. GILDAY:  Sure will. So when the -- after Captain Crozier's relief, the Seventh Fleet Commander flew from his command ship, the Blue Ridge, on to Guam and he spent an hour and a half answering questions for the crew until they ran out of questions to ask. He was clear to them that the reason that he was putting pressure on Crozier to put people in those gyms and in those rooms ashore was because he was putting safety over comfort.  That's the first time anybody had explained that to that crew.

And he told me when I spoke to the Seventh Fleet Commander that was an eye-opener for him, and it was an eye-opener for the crew.  One of the last calls I made this afternoon was to the current strike group commander and the current CO of the Theodore Roosevelt to prepare them for when they wake up tomorrow morning and this news hits the streets, when they first learned about it.

They both feel that the crew is going to accept this -- accept the rationale that we lay out, that they have a better understanding now than they did back then, of why things happen the way they happened.

STAFF:  All right, Nancy Youssef from the Journal.

Q:  Thank you.  Admiral, do you know now who patient zero was on the Theodore Roosevelt?  Is there any indication that it came onto the ship more than one way?  And who did you communicate with outside of the military?  That is, were any of these decisions or recommendations communicated with the White House beforehand?  Thank you.

ADM. GILDAY:  So let me take your first question.  And If it's okay sir, I'll turn the second question over to you.  So your first question again, I'm sorry Ms. Youssef, was -- it about -- it was about the vector for infection on the ship.  And so no, we've not been able to specifically understand who patient zero was on TR, and I think part of that is because of the asymptomatic nature of COVID.  And so it incubates at different paces for different people and so we don't have a good enough understanding.

Based on the investigation, we think that likely it happened during the port visit to Vietnam, but -- and when you read the report, we spent extensive -- we took an extensive look at the decision-making before we went to before the ship pulled into Vietnam, the actions that the ship took in terms of precautions as they were in Vietnam, and then what they did transiting out of Vietnam.  And I'm certainly happy to cover some of that for you.  But ma'am, we don't have a clear understanding of patient zero.

SEC. BRAITHWAITE:  So the second part of the question, I'd first like to go back to what Barbara had -- had stated.  I think that this is truly illustrates the importance of a thorough investigation.  I think as Admiral Gilday has indicated, if we had done the due diligence from the beginning, we would come up with the total facts that would have lead us to make the right conclusion much earlier than today.  Unfortunately, emotion got in the way and a rush to judgment, perhaps, became part of the equation.

I think the entire country has learned a lot through this COVID experience, and it's always easy to play Monday morning quarterback and go back and guess the actions of those who acted the way they did.  I am very proud of the way that the United States Navy has reacted to this.  When you think about the totality of this virus and how it's affected America, you will see that we really only had two ships that were significantly affected and out of that, both those ships are back underway and fully mission capable.

As far as my responsibility, again, I am a former military officer who believes in the chain of command, I have discussed the findings of this report with my boss, the Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark Esper, who also upholds our conclusions.  Farther than that, that is up to Dr. Esper to determine and I would refer any follow-on questions you have to him.

STAFF:  All right, we'll come back to the room here -- David? 

Q:  Would this deeper investigation ever have been conducted had not Crozier written that letter?

ADM. GILDAY:  I can't say that definitively, but certainly the e-mail and leak was the genesis of all this.

Q:  So he's not being relieved for the letter, but it's because of the letter that you had the investigation...

ADM. GILDAY:  Correct.

Q:  ... that led to his...

ADM. GILDAY:  As I've said earlier, this isn't about the email and it's not about the leak.  And I go back to my comments about fearless communications up the chain of command.  I need -- we need commanders to communicate up the chain of command.  But yes, that's what led to Crozier's firing.  And if you remember, back at that time, I had recommended an investigation before we made a determination on whether to fire.  And so the investigation -- the investigation happened after his relief.

Q:  Does it bother you that if he hadn't written a letter and just gone through the normal course of business, you never would have surfaced these problems?

ADM. GILDAY: It's good to get after these issues. We learned a lot from TR.  The issue here really, David, is about standards of performance and particularly in crisis, and so when you read the report, I think you'll probably come to the same conclusion that I did.

As bad as I feel for Captain Crozier and Admiral Baker and their families, I've got a responsibility to put the best people possible on a ship that is now operating in the Philippine Sea with two other strike groups.  You've seen the Chinese reactions to our ships out there, I can't have anybody -- I need people gripping problems, I need them driving solutions, I need them communicating fearlessly.  This put enough doubt my mind as I said before, had I known then what I know now, I would have relieved him.

STAFF:  All right, Courtney?

Q:  A couple of things.  Admiral Gilday, I'm still having a hard time understanding how your assessment of the paralysis of the command team and then the urgency of the e-mail that he sent.  How do you square those?  And then can you explain a little bit more about Rear Admiral Baker?  You said that it would be -- his promotion to two star would be delayed pending further review.  Is that a grade determination board, or who does that review?

ADM. GILDAY:  I'll take that one first, if you would.  And so we made -- I made the decision through a normal course of events to have a normal turnover of the strike group commander before they get underway.  The reason I did that is because I knew that, pending the results of investigation, I could still hold Baker accountable.  I didn't want to do a turnover in the South China Sea when they were operating with two other strike groups, I wanted that operational continuity.  So I discussed it with operational commanders and that's the decision that we made.

And so with respect to his promotion being held in abeyance so as part of the recommendations and reports there are administrative actions that'll be taken against Admiral Baker, so that would be the -- in a form of a letter, and that determination will be made by Admiral Aquilino, the Pacific Fleet Commander.

That'll then lead to an administrative process that will finally come to the Secretary of the Navy to make a decision on whether or not he should be promoted.  He's already Senate confirmed.  And I'm sorry, your preceding question.

Q:  I was wondering if you can explain the difference between the analysis that he was -- that there was a paralysis of the command and then this urgency in the email that Captain Crozier sent.  I just don't understand.  I think that was the thing that got so much attention about it, it seemed like a desperate plea for help.

ADM. GILDAY:  Correct.

Q:  So, how do you explain that -- it seems as if you're saying that he wasn't actually helping his sailors, so how do you...

ADM. GILDAY:  That's my -- so my point is that I feel he was placing them at greater risk.  Again, I go back to comfort in front of safety.  As I look at the facts that's what stood out to me, and again, I talked about, you know, his primary responsibility was safety and well-being of the crew so that we can get back to maximum operational readiness.

We knew that we could always get that ship underway with sick sailors if we had to, if the operational environment crisis drove us to that, but what we wanted to do was move people aboard -- off the ship as quickly as we could.  That's why we had people at the naval station working 24/7 to open up.

The initial requirement was 1,000 beds, and so they exceeded expectations with more than 2,400 beds within a week.  I haven't been able to come to a great understanding of why the email either, and so, there were really three courses of action that were -- that were either in planning or in execution.

So the course of action that was in execution, again, safety being the primary issue here, was to get people off the ship to Naval Base Guam into available accommodations, right.  The second COA, which was more constrained, was to augment the first COA with hotels from -- hotel rooms from Guam.  And again, the ship pulled in on Friday, negotiation Saturday, Sunday, an agreement on Monday.  

The third COA, which was -- which was contingency planning, was to look at space available in Okinawa.  That was a bigger lift.  So if we needed 4,000 beds at Naval Base Guam and it became physically impossible to do that, could we take a small segment of the crew and move them to Okinawa and to III MEF accommodations, right.  That's an eight hour flight, operationally, it's not what we wanted, but again if safety is thing one, that's what we would've looked at.  So that was a third COA, and to be quite honest with you, Captain Crozier was very frustrated that the ship was spending time working that contingency COA.

And so my response to that, is it -- if you are planning for the -- for the Okinawa COA -- the airlift COA, if that was taken away from the resources and focus, you had a place in the -- on the COA that was in execution, and you're talking to the Seventh Fleet Commander every day, there's your opportunity for fearless communication to say look, I need to reorder priorities.

Or if there was confusion, as you'll see in the report about whether people should be tested before they moved to accommodations, the Seventh Fleet Commander cleared that up within hours because that's conflicting guidance.  Get them off quickly was the primary thing, test before getting off with limited testing capability at the time where it conflicted with that.

So this is all about, if you have constraints or barriers and you can't break them at your level, yes you got to shoot a flare because I can't do what you told me to do.  That wasn't happening, that's part of the piece that I -- I spoke to Ms. Starr about, that I did not see that gripping the problem, that driving solutions, getting after it, and it was, quite frankly, was disappointing.

STAFF:  All right, we'll go back to the phones.  Idrees from Reuters?

Q:  Thanks, just a quick question, other than Captain Crozier and the strike group commander, are there going to be any other punishments up and down the chain or on the ship, and secondly, at any point, just going back to Nancy's question, at any point did you hear from the White House during the investigation about what their preferences were, or any sort of communication from the White House about -- about the investigation?

SEC. BRAITHWAITE:  The answer to the first question, no.  Admiral?

ADM. GILDAY:  So this is, so this is with respect to the White House?

SEC. BRAITHWAITE:  No, no.  I answered the question from the White House, I've received no communication whatsoever with anybody at the White House.  I've only communicated up the chain of command to the Secretary of Defense.  Second question had to do with additional personnel on the ship for potential administrative or punitive action.

ADM. GILDAY:  So the recommendation made in the report that I endorsed is for administrative action to be taken against the CO of Theodore Roosevelt.  The carrier air wing commander embarked aboard, the ship's medical officer who's part of the crew’s company.  And so, I have -- I'll be giving direction to the Commander of Pacific Fleet that he will take care of that administrative action.

The reason I'm not doing that from the Pentagon is because those types of letters, as an example, whether punitive or non-punitive letters of reprimand, that's correspondence directly between a senior and a subordinate, not -- not the CNO.  And so I'm putting this back in the chain of command where it belongs, and there's no hesitation by Admiral Aquilino to do that.

So he will take a look at the report, and then he will determine the tone, the substance of the level of administrative action that needs to be taken.

STAFF:  Right, we'll come back to the room here, Tara.

Q:  Thank you, so in your investigation, you determined that the COD flights were not a likely factor and it was -- most likely would have been the port visit in Vietnam.  Who authorized the port visit and is that person being held accountable?

And then thinking back to that port visit, at the time when we were asking questions about it, the answers were of the tenor, well, we didn't know that Vietnam, there's only a few cases, we didn't really know the extent of this, and at the same time getting briefings of everyone else plans were in development of how to handle COVID.  Even its own building was still dealing with how to socially distance at the time.  So, how do you hold Captain Crozier to a standard that people are still figuring out as this was unfolding on his ship?

ADM. GILDAY:  So, that'll be part of the investigation you can read, but -- but part of that -- so let me speak to that for just a moment.  So determinations were made during the planning phases for weeks and then the days leading up to that port visit, where there were communications with the CDC director in Vietnam, the WHO.

At that time, and still I think to this day, Vietnam has been -- has received among the highest grades of any country in the world consistently with respect to preventative actions and containment actions that they had taken.  At the time, the questions that we had for whether or not the 60 known cases in the vicinity of Hanoi, which was 450 miles from the port Da Nang, whether or not those were considered to be accurate.

And the CDC director, through the CDC in Washington, told us that -- that is a high degree of confidence that that reporting was accurate and the Vietnamese were being transparent.  So based on indications like that, as well as precautions that we put in place as an example, the Theodore Roosevelt was among our first ships and I would say among the first military units to have a testing capability for COVID.

We had testing capability for influenza-like illnesses and that same equipment could test for COVID.  So we had COVID testing, we brought on a preventative medical team that has an understanding of viruses like COVID, we brought them on to TR.  Everybody in the crew were briefed, their symptoms were checked before they left ship, when they came back to the ship. 

Any location that they went to had to be approved by the Department of State, hotels, clubs the crews of both the Bunker Hill that was pier side and Roosevelt that was anchored were not allowed to buy food in port.  There were 39 members of the crew that we discovered had been in a hotel where there were two -- there were two COVID, possible COVID cases. 

When we learned of that we brought everybody ashore from liberty, the ship got underway the next day.  Those 39 people were test and quarantined, none of the initial positives were among those 39.  So based on both planning and the precautions that went into that we think that at the time that those -- that those judgments were sound.  And so that determination was made by the Pac Fleet Commander who briefed up and received concurrence from the Indo-Pacific Command Commander.

Q:  So just to verify, the Pac Fleet Commander authorized the port visit?

ADM. GILDAY:  Ultimately the INDOPACOM Commander authorized the port visit.

Q:  Also following on that, decisions sound at the time, did you end up interviewing Captain Crozier, did he ever explain that he was using his own best sound decisions at the time to do X, Y, Z?

ADM. GILDAY:  That's a good question.  I think, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I think what you're really getting at is looking at this -- looking at the facts through the context of what was going on at the time, are we holding two commanders to different standards?  So it's a good question.  I don't think so.

So if I take a look at what Crozier was dealing with and yes we had a lot of questions at that time about the transmission of asymptomatic cases would be a good example and how the virus behaved.  But we surely knew, we surely knew that anybody that tested positive had to be isolated and we were doing that.

And we surely knew that anybody that came in contact with anybody that was positive had to be quarantined.  And that we surely knew that we were in a better place getting those people off the ship.  So even given what we didn't understand about COVID, we understood that. 

And so commanders, had it been another commander, whether it was a strike commander or a ships commander I think we wouldn't be in this position right now. 

STAFF:  All right, Megan, we'll come to you next.

Q: The question is for the Secretary.  So one of the biggest pieces of fallout from all this was of course former Acting Secretary Modly behavior and sort of the tension that created with sailors throughout the Navy but particularly on the TR.  So now that you're in this position and you're -- it's time to smooth that over, what kind of plan do you have to get out to the fleet and kind of heal that relationship between sailors and their civilian secretary?

SEC. BRAITHWAITE:  Thank you for that question.  I've been in the job now this is the conclusion of my third week.  I've already had the opportunity to visit with our sailors and Marines twice.  This week I didn't get out because we're in the midst of some deep budget discussions.  But I don't think there is any more important role as a secretary than assuring the men and women of the Navy that there is a steady and firm leadership of their department. 

I've really enjoyed these visits. I flew aboard the Harry S. Truman on my fourth day in the job and last week I went down aboard the Ford as well as over to NAS Oceana to visit our sailors and I can tell you that the morale of the men and women is very good and I think we can put some of these incidents behind us, especially now that we've concluded this.  We can move on and focus on what we need to focus on and that's readiness and being able to appropriately defend the United States.

Q:  Do you have any priorities that you've been sharing with them?

SEC. BRAITHWAITE:  Yeah, so I've talked a lot about culture, I've talked a lot about our duty to those that we serve with left and right, as well as those who have gone before us, as well that being reflective on who we are to attract the sailors and Marines of the future.

I've also reassured them of my intent to look out for their best interests, whether that's to ensure they get the right resources to do their jobs appropriately as well as to support them with the right type of benefits and other things that we provide them.

And then finally, again just reassuring them that we understand how demanding and challenging a role that they have, whether they're at sea or ashore.  It can be a very demanding thing to serve in the uniform of our nation.

STAFF:  All right, Sam LaGrone, we'll come to you next.

Q:  Yeah, hi, just a follow up on the idea of scope of command.  So you talked about Captain Crozier's scope of command.  Can you talk a little bit more about what the scope of command and the responsibilities were for Admiral Baker?

And then beyond that, it seems like you're drawing a pretty thick line around the strike group in and of itself.  What about the CTF 70 Commander?  What findings did you have that the Seventh Fleet Commander may have had a responsibility or things that they could have done differently or did that stop inside the strike group?  Thank you.

ADM. GILDAY:  So I go to -- Sam, thanks for the question -- I go back to his ship, his crew, his plan -- his plan to drive and execute.  All of the other echelons, their job -- to support.  And I gave examples of the things that were going on across the theater to support TR.

And so within the span of control of those other commanders, I saw positive action, I saw -- I saw great initiative, I saw great follow up.  We didn't necessarily -- you know, when for example, Crozier's -- Captain Crozier sent that e-mail to Admiral Aquilino, he called him because he said "I don't understand what else you need that we're not providing at one or two echelons or three echelons up from you" and the response was to go faster with the hotels.

Again, I go back to never check the facts.  The hotel deal was done six hours prior.  It was -- I -- I don't have a good answer for the exact why he sent that e-mail.  We've never received a good answer with respect to that but I do think that I have enough evidence within Crozier and Baker's span of control to question their decision-making.

STAFF:  Jeff Schogol?

Q:  Thank you.  A question for Admiral Gilday.  If Admiral Davidson ultimately made the decision to allow or to tell the Theodore Roosevelt to have the port call in Vietnam, why is he not being disciplined?

ADM. GILDAY:  Because we found no fault with the rationale to make the decision to go into port.

Q:  I thought earlier you had mentioned something about going to Vietnam during this COVID pandemic, so I'm a little unclear on that but at the same time you're holding the Captain to a higher standard than the person who sent his ship into Vietnam.  Why?

ADM. GILDAY:  I disagree.  So the decision -- the decision on the port visit was made a week before the WHO declared COVID a pandemic.  At the time they made the port visit, the Department of State travel advisory level was level one -- no -- no additional precautions required.

We took a look at several -- I -- we did not make a decision to make that port visit until the day before.  We exhausted several means and sources of information before we made a determination to put that ship into port.  We had no positive cases in Da Nang.

As a good example, the Bunker Hill was pierside.  We've had zero positive cases on that cruiser.

Q:  Well one last one and I appreciate you bearing with me.  Admiral Davidson made the decision to send the Theodore Roosevelt to Vietnam and a sailor died.  How is this not a case of different spanks for different ranks?

ADM. GILDAY:  So we took a look at that decision in going -- to go into port.  We found that that decision is sound.  We lay all this out, all the evidence that I just -- I just provided off the top of my head.  There is additional information that led us to conclude that that was a sound decision, that risk was adequately considered and mitigated by a lot of the precautions that we -- that we put in place -- testing equipment, medical experts, testing symptoms of the crew on and off the ship, immediately securing liberty when we did found out that they could have been in -- in contact with somebody in a hotel, getting underway within 24 hours.

So there's a number of things that Admiral Davidson was (inaudible) of that were -- that were -- that -- that were justified I think that -- that will bear the test of scrutiny.

STAFF:  All right, we'll take a few final questions from the phone.  Tony Capaccio, you're first.

Q:  Hi, Admiral, can you hear me?

STAFF:  Yep.

Q:  Hey Admiral, I want to check one thing.  Is it fair to say that had not Secretary Esper pushed back on your original investigation you would not have done the deeper dive?

ADM. GILDAY:  I can't say that.  And so my discussions after I made -- I made my recommendation to Secretary -- Acting Secretary McPherson and the only communications I had after making my recommendation -- I did present my findings to Secretary Esper at the time.  He did not agree or disagree with my presentation.

It was the following week when I met with Acting Secretary McPherson when he directed me to conduct a deeper investigation because he thought that there might be more to this story than the narrowly focused investigation that we originally directed to do.

At the time, Secretary McPherson thought that my recommendations were sound based on the facts and the -- and the facts that I -- the case that I -- the case that I presented -- the determination that I made off the facts that I reviewed.

In both of these investigations, I've come to my conclusions based on the facts.

Q:  Was the original investigation rushed, though?  In retrospect, should you just have waited?

ADM. GILDAY:  Of course.  Given a -- Secretary Braithwaite captured it very well.  Given a choice, yes, we should have done a -- we should have did a broader investigation.  You know, at the time we were looking at a very narrowly focused investigation.  The Navy was served better by a broader investigation.

I did not and nobody in the Navy pushed back on that direction to look more deeply at this issue.

STAFF:  All right.  Last question, we'll go to Paul McLeary from Breaking Defense.  Paul? All right then, Mike Glenn, we'll come to you then. 

Q:  I’m good.

STAFF:  Okay.  All right.  Thank you all very much for your time today. Have a good day.