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Trump Denies Knowing of Directive to Move USS McCain 'Out of Sight'

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 5/30/2019 Rebecca Ballhaus
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WASHINGTON—President Trump denied knowing about a White House request to move “out of sight” the warship USS John S. McCain during his visit to Japan, but said whoever issued the directive was “well meaning.”

Speaking to reporters Thursday as he left Washington for Colorado, Mr. Trump said of the White House request, which was issued earlier this month: “I didn’t know a thing about it. I would never have done that.”

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The president repeated his previous criticisms of the late senator and didn’t apologize for the White House directive, saying instead that the official who directed the warship to be concealed “did it because they thought I didn’t like him.”

“They thought they were doing me a favor because they know I am not a fan of John McCain,” he said. “I was very angry with John McCain because he killed health care,” he said, referring to a critical vote Mr. McCain cast in 2017 that blocked the GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. “I was not a big fan of John McCain in any way shape or form.”

Mr. McCain died in August at 81 years old from a brain tumor.

a large ship in the background: A tarp obscures the name of the USS John S. McCain ahead of President Trump's visit to Japan. © Provided by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. A tarp obscures the name of the USS John S. McCain ahead of President Trump's visit to Japan. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that in a May 15 email to U.S. Navy and Air Force officials, a U.S. Indo-Pacific Command official outlined plans for the president’s arrival that he said had resulted from conversations between the White House Military Office and the Seventh Fleet of the U.S. Navy. In addition to instructions for the proper landing areas for helicopters and preparation for the USS Wasp—where the president was scheduled to speak—the official issued a third directive: “USS John McCain needs to be out of sight.”

“Please confirm #3 will be satisfied,” the official wrote.

Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan was aware of the concern about the presence of the USS John McCain in Japan and approved measures to avoid what officials believed might be a disruption to the president’s visit, a U.S. official said. While traveling in Indonesia on Thursday, Mr. Shanahan said of the concerns: “What I read this morning was the first I heard about it,” he said.

Another U.S. official said that following the White House request for the ship to be moved, senior Navy officials in Hawaii and Japan determined last week that “the ships should remain in their normal configuration.”

Meghan McCain, Mr. McCain’s daughter, wrote on Twitter: “Nine months since he passed, Trump won’t let him RIP. So I have to stand up for him. It makes my grief unbearable.”

Mr. Trump has repeatedly attacked the senator, both before and since his death. In addition to criticizing his health-care vote, Mr. Trump has called Mr. McCain—who was a prisoner of war for 5 1/2 years in Vietnam—“not a war hero” and complained that he wasn’t thanked for giving the late senator “the kind of funeral that he wanted.”

The USS John McCain—which was stationed at the same naval base where Mr. Trump spoke on Tuesday aboard the USS Wasp—is being repaired after a 2017 collision that killed 10 sailors and tore a hole in the left rear side of the destroyer.

As a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Mr. McCain endured beatings and solitary confinement, while refusing to accept Vietnamese offers of early release on the ground that it would undermine the morale of others who lacked Mr. McCain’s connections. Mr. McCain was the son and grandson of admirals, and his father had been promoted to the position of commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific theater.

In July 2018, a month before Mr. McCain’s death, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer formally added Mr. McCain as a namesake of the USS John McCain, which had been named for his father and grandfather after it launched in 1994. Mr. McCain said at the time that he was “deeply honored.”

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