The U.S. Navy admitted that it received a request, presumably from White House aides, to hide the USS John S. McCain during President Donald Trump’s recent state visit to Japan.
But Rear Admiral Charlie Brown, chief of information, said in a statement released to NBC news on Saturday morning that although a request was received, Navy officials didn’t act on it, and insist nothing was done to obscure the battleship.
“A request was made to the U.S. Navy to minimize the visibility of USS John S. McCain, however, all ships remained in their normal configuration during the President’s visit,” Brown’s statement said, explicitly avoiding saying who or where the request originated.
The Navy’s acknowledgment followed nearly a week of intrigue, after a report Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal that White House officials ordered the warship placed out of sight during Trump’s Japanese trip. The newspaper said it reviewed an email to Navy and Air Force officials dated May 15 that included the direction “USS John McCain needs to be out of sight” for Trump’s Japan visit.
Additionally, sailors serving on the ship were instructed to not wear their uniform caps, which identify them as crew members on the USS John S. McCain, the newspaper reported.
Brown’s statement said attempted to quash that claim as well. “There were also no intentional efforts to explicitly exclude Sailors assigned to USS John S. McCain,” Brown said in the statement.
The Journal reported it examined an email sent by White House officials to Navy officials because they wanted to avoid the potential for the president throwing a temper tantrum if he saw the ship named for one of his most-hated political rivals. Trump has repeatedly attacked Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican senator who died last year.
The destroyer-class battleship is named to honor the late senator, who was an ardent Trump critic and most famously angered Trump by voting against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. It is also named to honor McCain’s father and grandfather, with whom the senator shares a name and who were both U.S. Navy admirals.
Two sources confirm to @CNBC that this is the email showing coordinated efforts to put the USS John McCain “out of sight.”
— Amanda Macias (@amanda_m_macias) May 30, 2019
Seeking to quell the controversy, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan ordered his chief of staff to “look into” the reported request from the White House and report whatever he discovered.
“Our business is to run military operations and not become politicized,” Shanahan told reporters Friday during a news conference in Singapore. “I would not have moved the ship.”
“The Navy is fully cooperating with the review of this matter tasked by the Secretary of Defense,” he said. “Our forward-deployed Naval forces continue to stand ready to execute their assigned missions.”
For his part in the matter, Trump denied any knowledge of the kerfuffle.
I was not informed about anything having to do with the Navy Ship USS John S. McCain during my recent visit to Japan. Nevertheless, @FLOTUS and I loved being with our great Military Men and Women – what a spectacular job they do!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2019
In a tweet sent out Wednesday night, the president said he “was not was not informed about anything having to do with the Navy Ship USS John S. McCain during my recent visit to Japan.”
Trump repeated the denial again on Thursday in comments to reporters on the White House’s South Lawn, adding who made the request was “well meaning.”
“I was not a big fan of John McCain in any way, shape or form,” Trump said to reporters who shouted questions at him as he exited the White House. “Now, somebody did it because they thought I didn’t like him, OK? And they were well-meaning. I will say, I didn’t know anything about it. I would never have done that.”
Defense Department officials also questioned other parts of the Journal’s story. The newspaper reported that a tarp was hung over the ship’s name ahead of Trump’s visit and that sailors were ordered to remove coverings from the destroyer that bore McCains’ name.
The newspaper also said crew assigned to the ship, who generally wear caps bearing its name, were given the day off and asked to steer clear of Trump’s speech held on the nearby USS Wasp.
Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet, said “all ships remained in normal configuration during POTUS’ visit,” using the acronym that means “president of the United States.”