Trump defends request to hide ship named John McCain

Media captionTrump: “I wasn’t involved in the request”

US President Donald Trump has defended a reported White House request to hide a warship named for his late critic, John McCain, during his trip to Japan.

At the White House, Mr Trump denied having prior knowledge of the request, but said whoever did it was “well meaning” in their intention.

The call to move the USS John S McCain out of view was ultimately torpedoed by senior Navy officials.

The Navy Chief of Information also posted to say it “was not obscured”.

The tweet – its first in five years – added that “the Navy is proud of that ship, its crew, its namesake and its heritage”.

Mr Trump denied to reporters on Thursday morning that he was behind the request to obscure the ship.

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The USS John S McCain prepares to leave Yokosuka in Japan in 2018

“I would never do a thing like that,” he said. “Now, someone did it, because they thought I didn’t like him. OK? And, they were well meaning, I will say.”

He added: “They thought they were doing me a favour because they know I’m not a fan of John McCain.”

The ship, which is docked in the Japanese city of Yokosuka, bears the name of the late Mr McCain – a military veteran, Republican senator for Arizona and antagonist of Mr Trump.

The guided-missile destroyer is named jointly after him and his father and grandfather. The latter pair were both Navy admirals.

Image Copyright @chinfo

Twitter post by @chinfo: 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.Image Copyright @chinfo

Quoting anonymous Navy officials, US media outlets reported that the White House had asked for the ship to be obscured during the visit.

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the claims, cited an email between US military officials which said that the ship “needs to be out of sight”.

Image Copyright @realDonaldTrump

Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump: I was not informed about anything having to do with the Navy Ship USS John S. McCain during my recent visit to Japan. Nevertheless, @FLOTUS and I loved being with our great Military Men and Women - what a spectacular job they do!Image Copyright @realDonaldTrump

It was also reported that the warship’s crew members, who have “USS John S McCain” on their caps, were sent home for the long weekend, along with the crew from another ship.

When some of them turned up to watch the speech anyway, the paper added, they were turned away.

Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters during a trip to Jakarta that he had been unaware of the incident.

“When I read about it this morning, it was the first I heard about it,” he said.

“I never authorised, I never approved any action around the movement or activities regarding that ship,” he continued, adding that the US military “needs to do their job” and keep out of politics.

Meghan McCain, Mr McCain’s daughter, tweeted in response to the reports: “Trump is a child who will always be deeply threatened by the greatness of my dad’s 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.”

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Trump’s bitter feud with McCain

This all goes back to President Trump’s hostile relationship with the warship’s namesake.

Senator McCain was a military veteran who, during the Vietnam war, was imprisoned and tortured for five-and-a-half years. He also unsuccessfully ran for president twice, most recently against Barack Obama in 2008.

But it was his outspoken criticism of Mr Trump, starting in 2015, that led to a bitter rivalry between them.

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During the campaign for the 2016 presidential election, Mr McCain – a fellow Republican – publicly withdrew his support for Mr Trump, accusing him of “firing up the crazies” with his views on immigration.

Less than a month later, President Trump told a campaign event: “He’s a ‘war hero’ because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

The divide between them didn’t end with Mr Trump’s election victory, however.

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The late senator John McCain, pictured in 2017, had an ongoing feud with President Trump

A year into his presidency, in July 2017, Mr Trump introduced a bill to repeal his presidential predecessor’s landmark healthcare legislation, the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare).

The Republicans almost succeeded but, as he battled brain cancer, Mr McCain voted no – scuppering the party’s bid to undo the act.

When McCain died in August 2018, Mr Trump came under pressure from lawmakers in both parties for refusing to order White House flags to fly at half-staff or to release a statement of condolences.

Mr Trump eventually relented, but did not attend the funeral and added that he “didn’t get a thank you” for McCain’s state funeral.