WASHINGTON — Less than 24 hours after flying to Guam and igniting a firestorm of public criticism, including from key members of Congress, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly issued a public apology Monday evening.

On Monday, Modly flew out to Guam and addressed the crew of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt on his recent decision to relieve the commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, over a letter leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle that urged the Navy to remove the bulk of the crew off the ship as quickly as possible to avoid further spread of COVID-19 on board.

In his remarks to the crew, Modly said the issue had become a scandal in Washington and that if the CO didn’t think his letter would leak he was either “too stupid or too naïve to be the commanding officer of a ship like this,” adding that “the alternative is he did it on purpose.”

Late in the day, Modly issued a statement apologizing to Crozier and his family, saying he did not believe the captain was stupid or naïve.

“I want to apologize to the Navy for my recent comments to the crew of the TR,” Modly said. “Let me be clear: I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite.

“We pick our carrier commanding officers with great care. Captain Crozier is smart and passionate. I believe, precisely because he is not naive and stupid, that he sent his alarming email with the intention of getting it into the public domain in an effort to draw public attention to the situation on his ship.”

Modly’s late night apology is a clear about-face from earlier in the day, when the Navy issued a statement from Modly saying he stood by his comments but regretted any profanity he used, adding that “anyone who has served on a Navy ship would understand.”

In earlier statements explaining why he fired Crozier, Modly took issue with the fact that Crozier put out sensitive information about the readiness of the ship in an unclassified document and distributed it widely, raising the chances it would leak to the media.

Ironically, Modly’s comments quickly leaked to the media, first in print and then in audio where sailors aboard the Roosevelt can be heard swearing in response to his statements.