US President Donald Trump and his acting defence secretary have distanced themselves from an order to have a US warship that is named after John McCain kept out of sight during the commander-in-chief’s recent visit to Japan.
- The late John McCain was a vocal critic of Donald Trump until his death from brain cancer in August 2018
- Donald Trump was in Japan for a state visit
- The Pentagon’s acting chief has ordered an investigation into the claims
The Pentagon’s acting chief, Patrick Shanahan, said he never authorised attempts to make sure Mr Trump would not see the USS John S McCain at its home port in Japan and has asked his staff to investigate.
The late Senator McCain was a former prisoner of war and a frequent critic of Mr Trump.
Photos have been published by the Wall Street Journal showing a tarp placed over the USS John S McCain’s name before Mr Trump arrived, reportedly after sailors were instructed to remove any coverings from the ship that included its name.
Mr Trump denied any involvement in the matter. Officials said the tarp had been placed on the ship for maintenance and removed for the visit. Navy Commander Clay Doss, spokesman for US 7th Fleet, said the tarp was on the ship on Friday but was removed by Saturday morning, the day Mr Trump arrived in Japan.
Mr Trump, who long feuded with Mr McCain, told reporters at the White House on Thursday that he “was not a big fan” of the Arizona Republican and one-time presidential nominee“in any way, shape or form” but added “I would never do a thing like that”.
“Now, somebody did it because they thought I didn’t like him, OK? And they were well-meaning, I will say,” he said, while insisting he was kept in the dark.
The order that a Navy destroyer be kept out of sight reflected what appeared to be an extraordinary White House effort to avoid offending an unpredictable President known for holding a grudge, including a particularly bitter one against Mr McCain.
Three US officials have confirmed that the White House told the Navy in an email to keep the warship named for Mr McCain, his father and his grandfather, out of Mr Trump’s sight during his visit on Tuesday to a base outside Tokyo.
On Friday, Mr Shanahan told reporters that his staff did a “quick and exhaustive” search and found no email to his front office. And he said he has not spoken to the White House or to a top Navy admiral in the Pacific about the matter.
Asked if anyone would face discipline, he said that he will “wait until I get a full explanation of the facts before I’ll pass judgment on the situation”.
The Wall Street Journal first reported that a US Indo-Pacific Command official wrote an email to Navy and air force officials about Mr Trump’s Memorial Day weekend visit, including instructions for preparations for the USS Wasp, where he was to speak.
“USS John McCain needs to be out of sight”, according to the email that was confirmed by the three US officials.
They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss private email correspondence.
When a Navy commander expressed surprise at the instruction, the US Indo-Pacific Command official answered, “First I heard of it as well,” the Journal reported.
The official said he would talk to the White House Military Office to get more information about the directive, the newspaper reported.
Mr Trump tweeted late on Wednesday that he “was not informed about anything having to do with the Navy Ship USS John S McCain during my recent visit to Japan”.
Still, he added on Thursday that he “was very, very angry with McCain because he killed health care. I was not a big fan of John McCain in any way, shape or form”.
A long-running feud
As a senator, Mr McCain broke with the president in key areas. He incensed Mr Trump with his thumbs-down vote foiling the effort to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Mr Trump also mocked McCain’s military service, which included years of imprisonment and torture during the Vietnam War.
The warship, commissioned in 1994, was originally named for the senator’s father and grandfather, both navy admirals named John Sidney McCain. Last year, the navy rededicated the ship to honour the senator as well.