President Donald Trump said he's "not even sure" his advance team requested that the USS John McCain be kept out of sight during his recent visit to Japan — a request the military has confirmed it received from the White House.
During an interview with British media personality Piers Morgan, which aired Wednesday, Trump said he "knew nothing about" the request and doubted if it happened at all.
"Here's the thing, I'm not even sure it happened — first of all, I didn't know anything about it," Trump said. "But I'm not even sure it happened. Somebody said they're painting the ship and they have the tarpaulins and they're painting the ship. And they have tarpaulins all over the place. I have no idea if it happened, or not. I hear it's fake news. But maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But again, I don't talk about John McCain unless somebody asks me about him."
After Trump's trip to Japan last month, The Wall Street Journal first reported on an effort to keep the ship bearing McCain's name out of Trump's sight while he was there because of his dislike for the senator, who died last August and whom Trump still blames for Republicans' failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Rear Adm. Charlie Brown, a Navy spokesman, confirmed in a statement that a request was made to the Navy to "minimize the visibility of USS John S. McCain, however, all ships remained in their normal configuration during the President's visit."
A senior Navy officer, meanwhile, told The Washington Post that Vice Adm. Phillip G. Sawyer, commander of the 7th Fleet, squashed any effort to “put the ship out of sight” before Trump's Memorial Day weekend visit to Japan.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, awaiting Senate confirmation, told reporters Sunday that the White House military office coordinated directly with the Navy's 7th Fleet on the request, which ultimately was not carried out. On Friday, Shanahan said his chief of staff would "look into" the request, adding the Pentagon's job is to "not become politicized."
The ship is named for McCain, his father and his grandfather.
On Sunday, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the request to keep the ship away from Trump's sight was not "unreasonable." Trump has said that whoever made the request was "well-meaning."