The Trump administration order that the Navy ship named for the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., be hidden from Trump’s view during a presidential visit to Japan provoked the Pentagon to tell the White House to stop politicizing the military. A Defense Department official said Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is also considering sending out formal guidance to military units to avoid similar situations in the future.
Shanahan’s spokesman, Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino, confirmed a Navy email that said the White House military office wanted the USS John Mc- Cain kept “out of sight” when Trump visited Japan two weeks ago. Buccino was the public information officer for the 82nd Airborne Division until recently. This comes on the heels of a week of scrambling and story-changing by the White House about the ship and the president.
When The Wall Street Journal first reported the requested move, Trump took to Twitter to say this: “I was not informed about anything having to do with the Navy Ship USS John S. Mc- Cain during my recent visit to Japan.”
But then, later in the week, Trump said this: “I was not a big fan of John McCain in any shape or form. Now, somebody did it because they thought I didn’t like him, okay? And they were well-meaning.”
When the internal Navy email came to light, it triggered a storm of outrage. Shanahan told reporters he is not planning to seek an investigation by the inspector general into the matter “because there was nothing carried out” by the Navy. He added that he still needs to gather more information about exactly what happened and what service members did.
“How did the people receiving the information … treat it?” Shanahan asked. “That would give me an understanding on the next steps” to take. Shanahan also said he spoke with McCain’s wife, Cindy, about the incident a day or two later, but he declined to provide any details.
The order to keep the Navy guidedmissile destroyer out of sight appeared to be an extraordinary White House effort to avoid offending the president. The McCain incident dogged Shanahan throughout a weeklong trip to Asia, even as he tried to deal with critical national security issues involving the eroding U.S. relationship with China and the continuing threat from North Korea. Shanahan, who has been serving in an acting capacity since the first of the year, has yet to be formally nominated by Trump as permanent defense chief.
His speech to a major national security conference in Singapore was a chance to audition for the job on the international stage. A formal nomination has been expected, and members of Congress have said they believe there will be a hearing on his nomination in the next month or so. According to Department of Defense spokesman Buccino, Shanahan told his chief of staff to speak with the White House military office “and reaffirm his mandate that the department of defense will not be politicized.” Buccino said the chief of staff reported back that he delivered the message.