President Trump says not involved with keeping McCain ship out of view during Japan visit
President Donald Trump and his acting defense secretary distanced themselves Thursday from an order to keep a warship named for the late Sen. John McCain, a Trump thorn, out of sight during the commander in chief's recent visit to Japan.
The Pentagon's acting chief, Patrick Shanahan, said he never authorized attempts to make sure Trump would not see the USS John S. McCain at its homeport in Japan and would have his chief of staff investigate. Trump said he was not involved in the matter.
Trump, who long feuded with McCain , told reporters at the White House that he "was not a big fan" of Arizona Republican and onetime presidential nominee "in any way, shape or form." But, Trump 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 McCain.
Three U.S. officials confirmed to The Associated Press that the White House told the Navy to keep the warship named for McCain out of Trump's sight during Trump's visit Tuesday to a base outside of Tokyo.
The Wall Street Journal first reported that a U.S. Indo-Pacific Command official wrote an email to Navy and Air Force officials about 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, obtained by the Journal and whose existence was confirmed to the AP by the three U.S. officials. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private email correspondence.
When a Navy commander expressed surprise at the instruction, the U.S. 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.
Trump tweeted late 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 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."
As a senator, McCain broke with the president in key areas. He incensed Trump with his thumbs-down vote foiling the effort to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law. 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 honor the senator as well.
Shanahan told reporters in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday that he had been unaware of the request about the USS John S. McCain.
"I never authorized, I never approved any action around the movement or activities regarding that ship," Shanahan said. He said the military "needs to do their job" and stay out of politics.