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White House wanted USS McCain ‘out of sight’ during Trump visit to Japan, reports say

The guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is prepared to leave dry dock at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Nov. 27, 2018.

TYRA WATSON/U.S. NAVY

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 30, 2019

The White House asked the Navy to keep the destroyer named after the late Sen. John S. McCain  “out of sight” during President Donald Trump’s visit this week to the home of the 7th Fleet in Japan, according to media reports.

The president did not deny the report, which appeared first in the Wall Street Journal and also The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Associated Press among others.

"I would never do a thing like that," Trump told reporters Thursday before leaving for Colorado to deliver the commencement address at the Air Force Academy. "Now, someone did it, because they thought I didn't like him. OK? And, they were well meaning, I will say ... They thought they were doing me a favor because they know I'm not a fan of John McCain."

The media reports said that a May 15 email from the Indo-Pacific Command to Navy and Air Force officials in Japan said that that “USS John McCain needs to be out of sight” during the president's visit to Yokosuka Naval Base.

The Journal reported that a tarp was placed over the name of the ship days before Trump’s arrival. 

The Post said that the original request to obscure the McCain came from the White House and that when Navy officials realized what was going on, they instructed Navy personnel at Yokosuka to stop and the tarp was removed three days before Trump arrived at the base.

Two U.S. officials told the AP that all the ships in the harbor were lined up for Trump's visit, and they were visible from the USS Wasp, where the president spoke with Navy personnel.

The officials said, however, that most of their names probably could not be seen since they were side by side but that the name of the McCain could be seen from the pier.

Asked if the tarp was meant to block Trump's view of the ship, the officials said it had been placed on the ship for maintenance and removed for the visit.

The president and McCain – a former Navy pilot who survived five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam – were often political foes. During the 2016 election campaign, Trump said McCain was “not a war hero,” and that “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Trump took periodic swipes at McCain after his August death from brain cancer, sometimes citing the late senator’s vote in July 2017 against legislation to repeal the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.

“I’m not a fan of John McCain and that’s fine,” Trump told Fox News in March.

The USS John S. McCain was originally named for the late senator’s grandfather, naval aviator and World War II Pacific commander Adm. John S. McCain Sr., and his father, former Pacific Command chief Adm. John S. McCain Jr.

The late Sen. McCain’s name was added to the ship in July 2018.

It is still undergoing repairs at Yokosuka for extensive damage caused by a 2017 collision near Singapore that killed 10 sailors.

Trump mentioned a half-dozen warships in a Memorial Day speech to servicemembers aboard the USS Wasp at Yokosuka, but not the McCain.

After the Wall Street Journal’s story was published, Trump tweeted: “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!”

In Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday morning, Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan told reporters, "When I read about it this morning, it was the first I heard about it." Asked if he would investigate, Shanahan said he would need to know more first.

McCain's daughter, Meghan, tweeted Wednesday that Trump will "always be deeply threatened by the greatness of my dads incredible life."

She added, "There is a lot of criticism of how much I speak about my dad, but nine months since he passed, Trump won't let him RIP. So I have to stand up for him.

"It makes my grief unbearable."

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1
 

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