Despite what Donald Trump claimed at the time, the destroyer USS John McCain was partially hidden from view, on orders from the White House, when the then-president visited a Navy base in Japan in 2019, according to the new records obtained by Bloomberg.
The warship, named for the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose father and grandfather served in the Navy, was covered with a tarp when Trump visited the naval base in Yokosuka.
Trump insisted at the time that he had nothing to do with hiding the name and that some “well-meaning” person had apparently blackballed McCain’s name. But Navy personnel were trying to at least partially comply with White House orders, which dismayed Navy officials, according to the emails, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.
“This just makes me sad,” one official told another in an email.
The records confirm and elaborate on reports from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times at the time.
Trump was a bitter rival of McCain. The two battled for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, with Trump downplaying McCain’s sacrifice in the Vietnam War when he was a Navy pilot. McCain was captured and held as a prisoner of war for years in horrific conditions. Trump, who dodged military service by claiming he had bone spurs, disputed that McCain was a hero.
“He was a war hero because he was captured,” Trump mocked McCain during a chat in 2015. “I like people who weren’t captured.”
(In talks with his staff after visiting a French war memorial in 2018, Trump called Americans who died in World War I “losers” and “shitholes.”)
In an email to the Navy before Trump’s state visit in May, a member of the US Indo-Pacific Command laid out a list of demands, including the directive that “USS John McCain must be out of the view,” according to records. The staff later followed up and asked, “Please confirm that number 3 will be satisfied.”
Ultimately, the boat was not hidden, but McCain’s name was obscured with a tarp.
The Navy gave all sailors aboard the McCain the day off while Trump visited Yokosuka, the Journal and Times reported. McCain’s sailors, whose uniforms included the ship’s insignia, were not invited to hear Trump speak that day, unlike sailors from other US warships at the base, the Times said, citing several members of the unnamed Navy service.
Trump insisted he played no role in covering up the name. He also claimed after his visit that he was “not aware” of any action by his own administration to hide the destroyer.
Months later, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan confirmed that the White House Military Office had made the request to keep the ship out of Trump’s sight.