Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan said Thursday he did not authorize and was not aware of a White House directive to have the U.S. Navy warship USS John S. McCain "out of sight" when President Donald Trump visited Japan.
"I would never dishonor the memory of a great American patriot like Senator [John] McCain," Shanahan told reporters traveling with him aboard a U.S. military aircraft en route to Singapore. "I'd never disrespect the young men and women who crew that ship."
During a visit to Indonesia earlier, Shanahan told reporters, "What I read this morning was the first I heard about it." He said he is asking his chief of staff to look into the matter.
An email seen by VOA shows discussions about the USS John S. McCain between the White House Military Office and an officer with the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet ahead of Trump's trip.
"USS John McCain needs to be out of sight," reads the email's third bullet-pointed request.
"Please confirm #3 will be satisfied," the email emphasized.
Trump says he was not informed
Trump tweeted Thursday that he was not informed about the controversy surrounding the USS John S. McCain during his visit to Japan.
Trump later told reporters outside the White House that whoever was involved in the move was "well meaning" but that he was unaware of the decision to hide the warship.
"I don't know what happened. I wasn't involved. I would not have done that," he said, adding, "I was not a big fan of John McCain in any way, shape or form."
Shanahan's spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, said the acting secretary of defense also "was not aware of the directive to move the USS John S. McCain, nor was he aware of the concern precipitating the directive."
"In terms of ship movements, the only ships I've moved is the USS Abraham Lincoln," Shanahan added during a press event at the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Indonesia. He was referring to his early deployment to the Middle East of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group, which was sent to deter potential threats from Iran.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the directive to hide the USS John S. McCain from Trump.
Long feud continues
Trump frequently feuded with longtime Republican senator and 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who died last year.
The USS McCain was originally named for the senator's father and grandfather, both Navy admirals, and now honors all three men.
Meghan McCain, Sen. McCain's daughter, called Trump a "child" who is "deeply threatened by the greatness" of her father. "Nine months since he passed, Trump won't let him RIP. So I have to stand up for him," she tweeted.
Media outlets report that a tarp was used to obscure the ship's name ahead of Trump's stop. When senior Navy officials figured out what was happening, they directed Navy personnel to remove the tarp, which was not present Saturday before Trump's visit.
A Navy official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to VOA that a white tarp was place over the ship's stern Friday and Saturday. But according to the official, the tarp was for "hull preservation as the ship continues maintenance," rather than to hide the ship's identity.
The tarp was removed from the ship's stern as of Saturday evening.
"The name of the 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," Navy Chief Information Officer Rear Adm. Charlie Brown tweeted Thursday.
Sailors with the USS John S. McCain were not asked to participate in activities around the president's visit to Japan. A Navy official told VOA the crew was on a "96-hour Memorial Day weekend liberty," which concluded after the visit.
The USS Stethem crew also did not participate in the Trump visit, according to the official.