Despite what Donald Trump claimed at the time, the destroyer USS John McCain was partially hidden from view, by order of the White House, when the then-president visited a Navy base in Japan in 2019 , according to new records recently obtained by Bloomberg.
The name on the warship, named after the late Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), his father and grandfather, who all served in the Navy, was covered with a tarp when Trump visited the Yokosuka Naval Base.
Trump insisted at the time that he had nothing to do with hiding the name and that a “well-meaning” person had apparently withheld McCain’s name. But Navy personnel were trying to at least partially comply with White House orders, which appalled Navy officials, according to emails, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“It just makes me sad,” one official told another in an email.
The archives confirm and clarify the reports of the time of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
Trump was a bitter rival to McCain. The two fought for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, and Trump played down McCain’s sacrifice during the Vietnam War while serving as 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 to have bone spurs, disputed that McCain was a hero.
“He was a war hero because he was captured,” Trump quipped of McCain at a 2015 conference. “I like people who weren’t captured.”
(In conversations with his staff after visiting a French war memorial in 2018, Trump reportedly referred to Americans killed in World War I as “losers” and “suckers.”)
In an email to the Navy ahead of Trump’s state visit in May, a US Indo-Pacific Command staffer presented a list of demands, including the directive that “the USS John McCain be out of sight,” according to the records. The staff member followed up later, demanding: ‘Please confirm No 3 will be satisfied.’
In the end, the ship was not hidden, but the McCain name was obscured by a tarp.
The Navy gave all sailors aboard the McCain a day off as Trump visited Yokosuka, the Journal and Times reported. The McCain sailors – whose uniforms included the ship’s insignia – were not asked to hear Trump speak that day, unlike sailors from other US warships at the base, according to the Times, citing several members anonymous from the Navy service.
Trump insisted he played no role in covering up the name. He also claimed following his visit that he was “uninformed” of any action by his own administration to hide the destroyer.
Months later, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan confirmed that the White House military office had asked to keep the ship out of Trump’s sight.