White House Aides Asked Navy To ‘Hide’ USS John McCain During Trump Visit
White House aides asked the Navy to keep the USS John McCain "out of sight" while the President visited a Navy base in Japan earlier this week.
Based on a story first reported by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times is reporting that White House aides asked the Navy to move or otherwise hide the USS John McCain during President Trump’s visit to an American military base in Japan where the ship is currently undergoing repairs:
The White House asked the Navy to hide a destroyer named after Senator John McCain in order to avoid having the ship appear in photographs taken while President Trump was visiting Japan this week, White House and military officials said Wednesday.
Although Navy officials insisted they did not hide the ship, the John S. McCain, they did give all of the sailors aboard the day off on Tuesday as Mr. Trump visited Yokosuka Naval Base.
Two Navy sailors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said that the McCain sailors were not invited to hear Mr. Trump speak that day aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp, while sailors from other American warships at the base were.
A Navy service member based on Yokosuka said that all of the American warships in the harbor were invited to send 60 to 70 sailors to hear Mr. Trump’s address, with the exception of the McCain. When several sailors from the McCain showed up anyway, wearing their uniforms with the ship’s insignia, they were turned away, the service member said.
White House aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly, confirmed the request was made but said that Mr. Trump did not know about it. A United States official said on Wednesday that the White House sent an email to the Navy with the request on May 15.
But the president denied on Twitter on Wednesday night having any involvement: “I was not informed about anything having to do with the Navy Ship USS John S. McCain during my recent visit to Japan.”
The acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, denied knowledge of the White House request. “When I read about it this morning, it was the first I’ve heard about it,” he told reporters on Thursday during an appearance with his Indonesian counterpart in Jakarta. Asked if he planned to order an investigation into the matter, he said, “I want to find out a little bit more.”
The Wasp, an amphibious assault ship that hosts the new F-35B Lightning fighter jets, had actually been in Sasebo, Japan, and was moved to Yokosuka in time for the president’s visit.
The Chief of Naval Information, the public affairs arm of the Navy, posted on Twitter for the first time in five and a half years over the matter. “The name of the U.S.S. John S. McCain was not obscured during the POTUS visit to Yokosuka on Memorial Day,” the Navy said, using an acronym for president of the United States.
CNBC reporter Amanda Macias obtained a copy of the email sent by the White House to the Navy in advance of the President’s visit
As noted, the President denied on Twitter that he was aware of the request from his aides:
In remarks to reporters outside the White House this morning, interestingly enough, Trump said that whoever made the request that the McCain be out of sight was “well-meaning.”
The Navy Chief of Information, meanwhile, says the name of the McCain “was not obscured” during the President’s visit:
Meanwhile, the late Senator’s daughter Meghan had her own say:
As a preliminary matter, it’s worth noting that the USS John McCain, an Arleigh Burgh-class destroyer that was commissioned in 1992 was not originally named for the late Senator. It was named for the Senator’s Grandfather, John S. McCain Sr., a four-star Admiral who served in World War II, and John S. McCain Jr., who fought in World War II while his father was in command and also later achieved the rank of four-star Admiral. McCain Sr. commanded naval forces at crucial battles during the Pacific campaign such as Guadalcanal and Okinawa and was one of the Navy officials on the deck of the USS Missouri for the formal surrender of Japan in September 1945. McCain Jr. meanwhile was the commander of Naval forces during the Vietnam War and it was because of this that Senator McCain was offered the opportunity to go home early after being made a prisoner of war. The late Senator famously declined that opportunity and chose to remain with his fellow Americans until they were all released. In July 2018, just about a month before he passed away, Senator McCain’s name was added to the vessel’s namesake list by the United States Navy.
As for the story itself, while it does not appear that Trump himself was aware of the request from his aides, the fact that it was made at all speaks volumes about this President and the people who work under him. This is, after all, the President who, early in his campaign, disparaged McCain’s military service, a theme he returned to several times during the campaign. The bitterness between the two men continued after the election, with McCain often being a thorn in the Administration’s side on foreign policy and other issues. The most famous example of that, of course, came in 2017 when McCain, who had been undergoing chemotherapy at the time, returned to Washington to deliver a thumbs down vote on one of the many bills that Republicans put forward to try to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Care Act. This contempt was also shared by White House aides, including one who made a widely reported joke about McCain dying back in 2018. While Trump thankfully stayed away from McCain’s funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral, he has continued to attack McCain even after his death. Given all of that, it’s not surprising that his aides would request the Navy to block out reminders of the late Senator during the President’s visit.
Petty? You bet its petty.
Vindictive? Without question.
Childish? Yes, and that’s consistent with the extent to which the President’s aides treat him like a toddler.
But this is the environment that the President has created and which obviously exists among his closest aides.