A PR catastrophe, one so lamebrained that only government officials could be behind it.

Capt. Brett Crozier, who commanded the carrier Theodore Roosevelt, was removed from his job after a letter he wrote about the situation on his ship was sent to people outside his chain of command, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said…

On Thursday, Modly said he still didn’t know whether Crozier leaked the letter to his hometown newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle.

But sending it to anyone outside the chain of command, “who had been moving and adjusting as rapidly as possible to get him the help he needed,” undermined the process, Modly said.

“For these reasons, I lost confidence in his ability to continue to lead that worship as it fights through this virus to get the crew healthy,” he added.

“The official reason for Crozier’s relief of duty is a loss of trust and confidence,” said NBC, citing sources. Do these people have any grasp how that sounds to the public, much of which is destined to consider Crozier a hero for risking his career by sending that letter in the name of saving the lives of his men?

Yesterday Modly implied that Crozier would only be in trouble if he leaked the letter himself. Today he’s admitting that he still has no evidence that Crozier leaked it, but he’s in trouble anyway for facilitating the leak by sending copies of the letter to so many people. Weirdly, that concern wasn’t mentioned yesterday when the chief of naval operations was assuring reporters that there’d be no retaliation against Crozier.

Democrat Jackie Speier, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, raised a fair point. Maybe Crozier feared that the Navy wouldn’t take his plea for relief for infected sailors seriously unless the public got wind of it.

“For this captain to come forward and do what he did up the chain of command, he should be heralded as a hero, and I’m sure they’re already finding ways to undermine because that’s what the military does,” said Speier, a San Mateo Democrat who chairs the military personnel subcommittee. “The fact of the matter is had (the letter) not been leaked, more lives would have been affected.”

Yeah, I’m keen to know how many requests for help Crozier made privately about the deteriorating situation on the Theodore Roosevelt before his letter ended up in the San Francisco Chronicle. Watch Modly below during his press conference today and you’ll have the impression that the Navy was all over this, fully in agreement with Crozier from the start that the sailors aboard needed to be quarantined on shore and working earnestly to provide facilities. To believe that, you need to believe that Crozier deliberately risked having the letter leak by circulating it among 20-30 people for … no reason whatsoever. He just sent it around, knowing how it might embarrass his superiors, not because the situation was desperate but because that’s just the kind of guy he is.

I’m eager to see more reporting on just how receptive the Navy actually was behind the scenes to his quarantine request before the letter leaked. I hope Modly’s telling the truth because he has a political problem now. The House Armed Service Committee leadership agrees that Crozier shouldn’t have gone outside the chain of command but firing him despite his good intentions in acting in the best interests of his sailors is way out of bounds:

Why didn’t they just discipline him?

The most tone-deaf thing about dropping the hammer on Crozier is that it comes just a few months after Trump went on that clemency spree for the likes of Eddie Gallagher and Clint Lorance. If you’re an accused or even a convicted war criminal, you can expect the commander-in-chief to go to bat for you. If you’re an officer who’s desperate because his crew is being swallowed by a deadly virus and you cc too many people on your report about it, you’re publicly disgraced by being immediately relieved of command. What garbage leadership we have.