White House wanted USS John McCain ‘out of sight’ for Trump visit

The White House wanted the US Navy to keep a warship named after late senator John McCain “out of sight” ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit to Japan, according to media reports.

The Wall Street Journal said a US Indo-Pacific Command official wrote an email to Navy and Air Force officials on 15 May about the president’s arrival in Japan over Memorial Day weekend.

It included instructions for the proper landing areas for helicopters and preparations for the USS Wasp, the ship on which the president was to speak.

The official then issued a third directive: “USS John McCain needs to be out of sight” – according to the email, which was reviewed by the WSJ and whose existence was confirmed to the Associated Press by three sources.

When a Navy commander expressed surprise at the instruction, the US Indo-Pacific Command official answered: “First I heard of it as well,” the WSJ reported.

The official said he would talk to the White House Military Office to get more information about the directive, the newspaper reported.

Later on Wednesday, Mr Trump, who feuded with Mr McCain publicly for years and at one point mocked his military service, tweeted: “I was not informed about anything having to do with the Navy Ship USS John S. McCain during my recent visit to Japan.”

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Citing a US official, the WSJ originally reported that acting defence secretary Patrick 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”.

Mr Shanahan later told reporters he never authorised any action around the movement or activities of the ship.

He also said he would never dishonour the memory of a great American like Mr McCain or disrespect the young men and women crew members of the ship.

The WSJ said a tarp was hung over the ship’s name ahead of the president’s trip, according to photos it reviewed, and sailors were directed to remove any coverings from the ship that bore its name.

Navy Commander Clay Doss, spokesman for the US 7th Fleet, said the tarpaulin was on the ship on Friday but was removed by Saturday morning, the day Mr Trump arrived, adding: “All ships remained in normal configuration during the president’s visit.”

Two US officials told the AP all the ships in the harbour were lined up for Mr Trump’s visit, and they were visible from the USS Wasp. The officials said most of the names probably could not be seen since they were side by side but the name of the USS John S McCain could be seen from the pier.

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

Citing people familiar with the matter, the WSJ reported sailors on the ship, who typically wear caps bearing its name, were given the day off during Mr Trump’s visit.

The ship was originally named after Senator McCain’s admiral father “Jack” and grandfather “Slew,” but shortly before his death in 2018, John McCain was also added as a namesake.

Rear Admiral Charlie Brown, US Navy’s Chief of Information, tweeted in the wake of the scandal: “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.”

Mr McCain was often the target of the president’s ire and the two had a tumultuous relationship that continued, on Mr Trump’s part, even after Mr McCain died of brain cancer in August 2018.

Mr Trump said in March: “‘I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.”

In 2015, Mr McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, got under then-candidate Mr Trump’s skin by saying he had “fired up the crazies” at a rally in Phoenix. Mr Trump later told a crowd in Iowa Mr McCain was only a war hero “because he was captured“.

Mr McCain was taken prisoner of war in Vietnam in 1967, where he was kept in gruelling conditions for five and a half years.

After Mr Trump took office, Mr McCain established himself as a leading critic and incensed the president by blocking his efforts to repeal Barack Obama’s health care law.

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Mr Trump was absent from Mr McCain’s funeral in 2018 on the request of the family, even though three former presidents, including Barack Obama who defeated Mr McCain in the 2008 presidential race, were present.

Following Mr McCain’s death, the White House lowered its US flag to half-staff, raised it back up and then lowered it again in an unusual and confusing break with protocol on the passing of a national leader.

Mr McCain’s daughter Meghan tweeted on Wednesday that Mr Trump will “always be deeply threatened by the greatness of my dads (sic) 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.”

Source: SKY NEWS

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