The Navy acknowledged Saturday that “a request was made” to obscure the USS John S. McCain during President Donald Trump’s visit to Japan.
“A request was made to the U.S. Navy to minimize the visibility of USS John S. McCain, however, all ships remained in their normal configuration during the President’s visit,” Rear Admiral Charlie Brown, the Navy chief of information, said in a statement quoted by multiple outlets.
The Wall Street Journal first reported this week that the White House ordered the McCain be hidden ahead Trump’s visit. The McCain name on the ship was covered with a tarp, per the report, and sailors who normally wore caps with the name were given the day off. Responding to the report, the Navy denied that the ship’s name was obscured during Trump’s visit.
Trump and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan pleaded ignorance of the order when the story came out, but their reactions otherwise differed significantly: Trump, who seized the moment to repeat that he “was not a fan of John McCain,” said whoever was responsible for the request was “well-meaning, I will say.”
Shanahan, meanwhile, said “I would not have moved the ship”: “Our business is to run military operations and not to become politicized,” he said. “Our job is to run the military.”
The ship was not ultimately moved, as it is currently under repair after a deadly 2017 collision with a container ship.
Brown’s statement Saturday added: “There were also no intentional efforts to explicitly exclude Sailors assigned to USS John S. McCain.”
That appeared to be a reference to the New York Times’ reporting that, according to unnamed sources, “The McCain sailors were not invited to hear Mr. Trump speak that day aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp.” When “several” sailors from the McCain “showed up anyway,” the Times reported, “they were turned away.”
Brown added on Twitter: “If a Sailor says he or she was turned around because of the ship name on their cap, I would believe them. I haven’t been able to confirm that happened, but if it did, it was wrong.”
If a Sailor says he or she was turned around because of the ship name on their cap, I would believe them. I haven’t been able to confirm that happened, but if it did, it was wrong
— Navy Chief of Information (@chinfo) May 30, 2019
Shanahan said Friday that he’d asked his chief of staff to look into the incident.
Brown said in his statement: “The Navy is fully cooperating with the review of this matter tasked by the Secretary of Defense. Our forward-deployed Naval forces continue to stand ready to execute their assigned missions.”