Trump initially appeared to confirm that someone had tried to keep the ship out of sight, while pointing out that he hadn’t asked for it. But then he questioned the report, citing a Navy statement and suggesting the report was “an exaggeration, even fake news”.
This was not fake news, as a batch of recently published emails reinforces and details.
Emails, obtained by Bloomberg News reporter Jason Leopold and speak the wall street journal through Freedom of Information Act requests, complete history of military officials responding to a request from the White House military office. Among the discoveries:
- They show military officials repeatedly saying it was a request from the White House, but also that the officials didn’t want to put it in writing.
- At one point, a military official was apparently so taken aback by the claim that he asked for it to be confirmed. “I could see this becoming a Tweet,” the manager added.
- Another military official responded the next morning, saying, “It just makes me sad.
Although there were calls for investigations at the time, including by Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and McCain’s successor in the Senate, Martha McSally (R-Arizona), we have learned very little since then. during. And while it may not rank too high on the list of Trump-era controversies, it is at the very least extremely emblematic of officials’ often bizarre attempts to treat Trump with kid gloves, lest to make him angry.
The emails released date back more than a month before Trump’s visit in late May 2019. And while they redact virtually everything White House officials said, the context makes it clear that the request to hide the ‘USS McCain is welcome from the White House.
On April 12, the director of the White House military office, Rear Admiral Keith Davids, responds to an email from Rear Admiral Ted LeClair, deputy commander of the US 7th Fleet, headquartered in Japan. The content of the email is almost completely redacted.
On April 22, the director of operations for the White House military office forwards another email (also almost entirely redacted) to 7th Fleet officials.
On April 24, the 7th Fleet Chief of Staff responds, looping through five addresses from the White House Military Office (WHMO) and a public affairs officer. “Clay – make this work ASAP with Charlie Brown at [U.S. Pacific Fleet] and see what you can provide,” the email reads.
On May 15 comes the first unredacted reference to the darkening of the USS John S. McCain. A U.S. Indo-Pacific Command official writes to other military officials, “Please see below an excerpt from discussions between WHMO and” the 7th Fleet. Of three directions listed: “3. The USS John McCain must be out of sight. It asks recipients to “please confirm that #3 will be satisfied”.
A recipient forwards the email by pasting only the text of this directive. In another email, potentially from the same maintainer, the instructions are passed along with the comments:
I just spoke to [REDACTED] on chip number 3. It checks the validity.
3. The USS John McCain must be out of sight.
I could see this becoming a Tweet…
One of the recipients responds by saying, “It just makes me sad…”
Other emails refer to the White House asking for the ship to be masked. A May 24 email from the 7th Fleet Chief of Staff cites “WH’s request to keep the name not visible” and “that JSM be ‘kept out of sight’.” ”
“We asked for a formal order but no [sic] was coming,” the email reads.
On the same day, another official reviews the situation, saying, “This instruction was passed on to ‘someone in the White House military office,’ who in turn provided this guidance to ‘the 7th Fleet.’ The email also cites an email from Davids to LeClair – potentially the April 12 email above – “emphasizing the importance of making sure this happens.”
And for the first time, it refers to a Navy officer who “took extra action by hanging the banner at eyebrows,” while emphasizing that it was “NOT led” by the 7th Fleet.
NEW: The White House wanted the USS John McCain ‘out of sight’ for Trump’s visit to Japan. A tarp was hung over the ship’s name ahead of the trip, and the sailors – who wear caps bearing the ship’s name – were given the day off for Trump’s visit. with@gluboldhttps://t.co/6ugPceCOre pic.twitter.com/KuIoWJK5Kt
— Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus) May 29, 2019
Although the reference to the “frontal banner” is unclear, the Wall Street Journal published a photo of what it called a “tarp” covering the ship’s name. The photo was taken the same day as the email, May 24.
Later on May 24, Commander 7th Fleet Vice Admiral Phillip G. Sawyer emailed Commander Pacific Fleet Admiral John C. Aquilino and again cited the request as from the White House military office. He says the “banner” and “painting scaffolding” were used to “ensure JSM’s name was not visible” from the USS Wasp, the ship on which Trump would appear:
We have received an RFI regarding the “keep MCCAIN out of sight” task at the next DV1 visit. A roughly reconstructed sequence of events follows:
* O/A May 15: WHMO requested (SIPR traffic) to ensure JSM is not visible from WSP.
* This WHMO request was later (c/a May 16) pushed by INDOPACOM planners to JTF POTUS and component commanders. ALCON was tracking this as a requirement even though it was not in the PLANORD IPC.
*Based on the tasks above, the orgs under my OPCON bent over to ensure the JSM name was not visible from WASP. This includes:
–Designation of JSM as flagship of CDS-15. CDS-15 banner is now on the JSM front (instead of a JSM banner)
–Establishment of a painting scaffolding at the rear of the ship. This partially obscures the ship’s name.
–JSM Memorial Day 4-Day Weekend runs Saturday-Tuesday (the day of the DV1 tour)
(Note: all you see of the WASP with JSM is the JSM bow and hull name 56)
(The “weekend” reference seems to cite another detail reported by the Journal: that “the ship’s sailors, who usually wear caps bearing his name, were given a day off during Mr. Trump’s visit. »
Sawyer recommended “no further action” and added that “this includes ‘undoing’ whatever has been done (front banner, scaffold painting)”.
Further emails from May 25 feature military officials trying to account for these actions and again noting that other military officials resisted putting instructions in writing.
The tarp was removed that day, the Navy confirmed. The Journal reported that a barge then blocked the name but was also moved.
After the controversy erupted, the Navy released a statement noting that the ship’s name had not been obscured during Trump’s visit – but without acknowledging that it had been previously, and deliberately. Trump seized on it, tweeting, “Navy released a disclaimer on the McCain story. Looks like the story was an exaggeration, or even fake news – but why not, everything else is!”
Again, the fake news came from inside the Oval Office instead.