The Navy on Thursday denied ever acting on an alleged White House Military Office staffer’s request to obscure the USS John S. McCain destroyer during President Trump’s visit to a U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan, where it is docked.
“When brought to senior Navy leaders’ attention, direct guidance was given to keep the ships in normal configurations,” a Navy official said.
The Wall Street Journal first reported that the White House Military Office had asked that the ship be hidden during Trump’s visit and that a tarp and a barge were placed to obscure the ship’s name. The story sparked outrage from Trump’s critics, including from the late senator’s daughter, that the president would make such a request.
Shortly after, Trump said he was not informed about “anything” having to do with the McCain. The Navy also put out a statement stating that the McCain was not obscured during Trump’s visit to Yokosuka:
The name of USS John S. McCain was not obscured during the POTUS visit to Yokosuka on Memorial Day. The Navy is proud of that ship, its crew, its namesake and its heritage.
— Navy Chief of Information (@chinfo) May 30, 2019
The WSJ report also said that Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan was “aware of the concern about the presence of the USS John McCain in Japan and approved measures to ensure it didn’t interfere with the president’s visit.”
Hours later, Army Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, a spokesman for Shanahan, said in a statement, “Secretary Shanahan was not aware of the directive to move the USS John S McCain nor was he aware of the concern precipitating the directive.”
CNBC published alleged email correspondence by a U.S. Indo-Pacific Command official reflecting a conversation between the White House Military Office and the Navy’s 7th Fleet in advance of the president’s trip. It said, “USS John McCain needs to be out of sight.”
A Navy spokesman for 7th Fleet, Cmdr. Clayton Doss, later said in a statement, “All ships remained in their normal configuration during the President’s visit.”
Two Navy officials, speaking to Breitbart News on background on Thursday, denied that the tarp or the barge was related to the alleged White House Military Office request.
The officials said a white tarp was put on the McCain‘s stern from late Friday, May 24, to Saturday morning, May 25, as part of “preservation and maintenance.” During that time, a photo was taken of the ship covered by a tarp, one official said. That photo ran along with the WSJ story.
The official said the tarp was only there temporarily and that when the commander of the ship, Navy Cmdr. Micah Murphy, left on Friday there was no tarp, and when he arrived back to the ship on Saturday morning it was gone.
The officials did not say exactly who put the tarp up or took it down, but suggested it was part of ongoing maintenance on the ship. The McCain has been under repair since it collided with another ship in August 2017.
The Navy officials also denied that a paint barge was used to cover up the ship’s name. The second official said the McCain was being painted ahead of Trump’s visit and the paint barge was moved away on Sunday, May 26. Trump did not arrive until Monday, May 27.
“The ship wasn’t moved nor was anything put in place that would obstruct the name,” the first official said. “The 7th Fleet wouldn’t accept anything that would obscure the name of the ship on the day of the visit.”
“The paint barge comes and goes,” the second official said. “It was there to paint and do hull preservation and then it was gone.”
The official added that it is very common for ships to be painted ahead of high-level visits like the president’s. “A lot of the other ships did that very same thing. I know the Wasp did. I know they were out there painting, and sweeping and getting ready,” the official said.
The first official added it would have been difficult for Trump to even see the name of the McCain, due to the way the ships are lined up.
The WSJ also reported that the McCain‘s sailors were given the day off during the visit. A Washington Post report said the crew was released from duty for the long holiday weekend, along with sailors from another ship, the USS Stethem.
The second Navy official said the McCain and Stethem sailors did not participate in the president’s visit because they were not among commands selected. Those selected included both afloat and ashore units, and were “broad representation,” the official said.
The official confirmed that the McCain sailors were on a 96-hour Memorial Day weekend liberty, which concluded Tuesday after the visit. The official also batted down reports that had the McCain sailors participated in the event, they would have worn hats with “McCain” on them.
“Participating commands were directed to wear 8-point covers (hats) and Type IIIs for uniformity the day of POTUS’ visit,” the official said, referring to sailors’ green utility uniform and hat. The official said sailors would have not been wearing their ball caps with ship names on them.
“If anyone was turned away, it was because they were not in the right uniform,” the official said.
Trump again told reporters Thursday morning that he did not have anything to do with the White House Military Office request.
“I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t involved. I would not have done that. I was very angry with John McCain because he killed health care. I was not a big fan of John McCain in any way shape or form,” he said.
“I wasn’t a fan but 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, I didn’t know anything about it. I would have never done that.”
“I don’t know who did it. We’ll probably be able to find out who did it. They thought they were doing me a favor because they know I am not a fan of John McCain,” he added.
Later on Thursday, he tweeted: “The Navy put out a disclaimer on the McCain story. Looks like the story was an exaggeration, or even Fake News – but why not, everything else is!”
The Navy put out a disclaimer on the McCain story. Looks like the story was an exaggeration, or even Fake News – but why not, everything else is!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2019
Breitbart News asked the White House whether it was looking into who made the request and why, but has not received an immediate response.