Navy acknowledges request was made to hide USS John S. McCain during Trump visit

"A request was made to the U.S. Navy to minimize the visibility of USS John S. McCain" during President Donald Trump's recent state visit to Japan, the Navy said in a statement.
Image: USS John S. McCain
The USS John S. McCain, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, operates off the Korean Peninsula during exercises on March 2013.Declan Barnes / U.S. Navy via AFP - Getty Images file

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By Max Burman and Courtney Kube

The U.S. Navy has acknowledged that a request was made to hide the USS John S. McCain during President Donald Trump's recent state visit to Japan.

"A request was made to the U.S. Navy to minimize the visibility of USS John S. McCain, however, all ships remained in their normal configuration during the President's visit," Rear Admiral Charlie Brown, chief of information, said in a statement to NBC News.

"There were also no intentional efforts to explicitly exclude Sailors assigned to USS John S. McCain," the statement said.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Friday he’d asked his chief of staff to “look into” the reported request from the White House to move the ship "out of sight" during Trump's visit.

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“Our business is to run military operations and not become politicized,” Shanahan told reporters during a news conference in Singapore. “I would not have moved the ship," he added.

"The Navy is fully cooperating with the review of this matter tasked by the Secretary of Defense. Our forward-deployed Naval forces continue to stand ready to execute their assigned missions," Brown, the Navy spokesperson, said Saturday.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that it had reviewed an email to Navy and Air Force officials dated May 15 that included the direction "USS John McCain needs to be out of sight" for Trump's Japan visit. CNBC has also obtained the email. NBC News has not reviewed the email.

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Trump said Wednesday night on Twitter: "I was not informed about anything having to do with the Navy Ship USS John S. McCain during my recent visit to Japan." Trump again denied any involvement on Thursday, but said whoever made the request was "well meaning."

The ship is named for McCain, his father and his grandfather.

Trump was a fierce critic of the Arizona senator while he was alive, and he has continued to criticize him even after the Republican lawmaker died more than nine months ago.

The Defense Department has disputed parts of the Wall Street Journal's account. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet, said "all ships remained in normal configuration during POTUS' visit," using a common acronym for "president of the United States."

And Joe Buccino, a spokesman Shanahan, told NBC News Thursday that Shanahan wasn't aware of the directive, "nor was he aware of the concern precipitating the directive."