Trump Fires Two Men Of Honor (for patently political reasons)
At a time when more than 9100 Americans are dead and 321,000 sick by a pandemic made worse because the president of the United States failed to do his job, Donald Trump chose to fire two men of honor because they did theirs with integrity and distinction.
Under the cover of darkness late Friday night, impeached president Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the second inspector general of the Intelligence Community and a Trump appointee, claiming the former U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor “…did a terrible job, absolutely terrible…” when he turned over what the president called “a fake report” to Congress outlining a credible whistleblower charge that led to the president’s impeachment. The president added, “The man is a disgrace to IGs. He’s a total disgrace.”
Earlier, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly fired U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt Captain Brett Crozier for expressing his concern about the safety of his sailors after 155 tested positive for COVID-19 after the ship was ordered to virus-stricken Vietnam in February.
“I thought it was terrible, what he did, to write a letter,” said Trump, defending “100%” the captain’s firing. I mean, this isn’t a class on literature. This is a captain of a massive ship that’s nuclear powered. And he shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter.”
Both men dismissed received strong praise from colleagues for their service, honor and sense of duty to their country and the organizations they served.
Inspector General Michael Atkinson
“Inspector General Atkinson is known throughout the Inspector General community for his integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight,” said Michael Horowitz, inspector general of the Justice Department and chairman of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE). “The Inspector General Community will continue to conduct aggressive independent oversight of the agencies that we oversee.”
Mr. Horowitz added in a stinging rebuke of the president released Saturday from the CIGIE that “Mr. Atkinson’s integrity and professionalism compelled him to release the Ukraine whistleblower report “…which the then Acting Director of National Intelligence stated in congressional testimony was done ‘by the book‘ and consistent with the law.”
He was speaking about Acting Director Joseph Maguire, a Trump-appointee and a former U.S. Navy Vice-Admiral, who testified to the House Intelligence Committee in September 2019, “First, I want to stress I believe the whistleblower and the inspector general have acted in good faith throughout. I have every reason to believe that they have done everything by the book and followed the law.”
Mr. Maguire was forced to resign in February 2020 during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic when effective countermeasures against the disease could have dramatically reduced deaths in the United States.
This was after incurring Mr. Trump’s wrath when the president learned that one of the director’s subordinates, an expert on election security, briefed members on the House Intelligence Committee that Russia meddled in the U.S. 2016 presidential election with the goal of helping the Republican beat his Democratic Party challenger, Hillary Clinton.
At the time, the White House claimed it didn’t fire Mr. Maguire in retribution for his aide’s briefing to House lawmakers, even though witnesses reported that the president exploded on the acting director upon learning about the briefing, claiming Mr. Trump worried Democrats would use the information against him in the upcoming 2020 election.
During the following week, members of the administration made the rounds of TV news shows claiming the real reason Mr. Maguire was fired was because the Federal Vacancies Reform Act required the White House to replace him by March 11 with someone who was “confirmed by the Senate.”
The reality is, however, the president could have kept Mr. Maguire in the role indefinitely so long as he nominated someone to be Senate-confirmed by the deadline.
In addition, Mr. Maguire already had been confirmed previously by the Senate in December 2018 in his previous role as Trump-nominated Director of the National Counterterrorism Center. The fact he was Senate-confirmed negated the argument made by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien on ABC’s This Week when he defended the president’s retribution against Mr. Maguire.
“Admiral Maguire’s time as the acting DNI was up in a week or two,” Mr. O’Brien claimed. “We were looking for someone who was Senate-confirmed under the Vacancy Act. We needed a Senate-confirmed official to come in and replace him. And so we went with a highly qualified person, Ambassador Grenell.”
Mr. O’Brien was speaking about former Ambassador Richard Grenell who previously served under the George W. Bush (43) Administration.
Mr. Grenell, a staunch Trump loyalist, was appointed as acting director of National Intelligence on 20 February 2020, just seven days after Mr. Maguire’s dismissal. He is also the United States Ambassador to Germany and the Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations, holding three positions simultaneously.
Capt. Brett Crozier
Also receiving high praise for his conduct as the commander of one of America’s eleven aircraft carriers was Capt. Brett Crozier, who was stripped of his command after a letter he sent alerting senior Navy officers of the dire circumstances on his vessel due to an outbreak of COVID-19 that has, so far, sicken 155 sailors, including the captain, himself.
Acting Secretary Modly claimed part of the reason for his decision to fire Capt. Crozier was because the Roosevelt’s commanding officer “unnecessarily created panic among the sailors on board the vessel, leading to a loss in confidence among the rank and file and the ship’s leadership.”
But no such lack of confidence was apparent when the ship’s commander departed the vessel, now docked in Guam after stopping in Vietnam where the crew picked up the virus.
As Capt. Crozier walked alone down the gangplank to shore, the ship’s sailors broke out in cheers, singing his name. In one video making the rounds on social media, viewers can hear a sailor say, “That’s how you send off a GOAT,” using the acronym for “Greatest of All Time,” in reference to his former commander.
In the letter asking for “decisive action” Capt. Crozier sent to senior Navy commanders, he sacrificed his career to protect those who served under his command and to inform his superiors that one of their most important warships was dangerously close to being disabled by an outbreak of the virus.
“We are not at war,” Capt Crozier wrote. “Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”
Without those sailors, of course, the U.S.S. Roosevelt would be unable to fulfill its mission, leaving the Navy short one of its 11 aircraft carriers (the rest of the world, by the way, has only nine, total).
Theodore Roosevelt’s great grandson, Tweed Roosevelt, weighed in on Trump’s decision to dismiss Captain Crozier:
“In this era when so many seem to place expediency over honor, it is heartening that so many others are showing great courage, some even risking their lives. Theodore Roosevelt, in his time, chose the honorable course. Captain Crozier has done the same.”
Instead of recognizing Capt. Crozier’s concern for what it was, both a plea for the well-being of the men and woman manning his ship, as well as a warning about the rapidly declining operational readiness of the Roosevelt, Acting Secretary Modly saw it as a threat to his boss, Trump, who had, until recently, consistently downplayed the threat of the virus.
Allowing the news of the Roosevelt’s plight to gain affirmative press coverage would have, inevitably, raised the question of why the ship was sent to Vietnam in the first place?
The State Department, which has to approve all port visits by U.S. Navy ships, was well aware that the COVID-19 virus was present in the local community of Da Nang when they allowed the ship’s crew to embark.
In a press release on March 12, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, under the leadership of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Mr. Modly, reported sailors from the Roosevelt and the guided missile cruiser Bunker Hill were allowed to go ashore and mix with the local infected population.
“The visit,” said the release, “which commemorated 25 years of U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations, followed the historic 2018 visit of USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), demonstrated the strong U.S. commitment to its comprehensive partnership with Vietnam and to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Sailors from both ships participated in “cultural exchanges and community service projects including making crafts, playing sports, a language exchange, gardening,” according to the release.
Ironically, the subject of the COVID-19 virus and the dangers of its spread was also a focus of the trip. “A professional exchange taking place during the visit focused on cooperating on infectious disease prevention.”
The real point to the visit was, of course, a show of American military force and the growth of U.S. – Vietnamese ties meant to unbalance the Chinese.
Historically, since the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Cam Ranh Bay Naval Base in 2002, Vietnam has sought to balance its relations with the U.S. and China, with Beijing always seeking to gain a strategic advantage with America’s former enemy.
But, in this case, there was no immediate strategic need to expose the Roosevelt’s sailors to the COVID-19 virus. In fact, according to Joshua Kurlantzick writing in World Politics Review, Vietnam appears to be slowly moving more into the U.S. orbit than China’s.
“The U.S. and Vietnam have already built close strategic ties, and Pentagon officials regard Hanoi as one of America’s most important emerging military partners,” wrote Mr. Kurlantzick.
“Vietnam has ‘one of the more capable militaries in Southeast Asia. The Trump administration has increased so-called freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea to challenge China’s expansive maritime claims, and sent the first U.S. aircraft carrier to Vietnam since the Vietnam War, among other efforts to upgrade relations. Even Trump’s criticism of Vietnam on trade issues has not seriously damaged strategic ties.”
That carrier was, of course, the Roosevelt.
Prior to the ship’s arrival in Vietnam on 4 March 2020, the Navy had already ordered all ships that made stops in the Indo-Pacific region to self-quarantine at sea for at least 14 days.
And, on 24 February, high command ordered all ships of the 7th Fleet, whose home port is Yokosuka, Japan, to screen all personnel accessing ships and aircraft after a 61-year-old female dependent in Daegu, South Korea tested positive for the virus.
“The port call of the Theodore Roosevelt has already helped to deepen bilateral trust. Six thousand sailors visiting a nation adjacent to the epicenter of the ongoing coronavirus health crisis certainly stimulated a debate in both Hanoi and Washington about proceeding with the visit,” wrote Capt. Christopher Sharman in The Diplomat.
“On the U.S. side, the visit demonstrated the Navy follows through with its commitments and that the American leadership trusted the Vietnamese authorities to take appropriate measures to protect sailors from the spread of the virus.”, Sharman added.
So, was Capt. Crozier fired because he violated Navy protocol by sending a letter pleading for help for his sailors, allegedly sparking a wave of panic on board his ship?
Or was he fired because the crisis aboard his vessel was the direct result of the Navy’s decision to knowingly risk the lives of sailors manning the USS Roosevelt by sending them ashore in Vietnam for a public relations campaign and his letter drew press attention to that choice?