On May 29 2019, a claim published by the Wall Street Journal was quickly picked up by other news organizations, all relating a story about President Donald Trump’s visit to Japan and his purported disdain for the USS John McCain:
The White House wanted the U.S. Navy to move “out of sight” the warship USS John S. McCain ahead of President Trump’s visit to Japan, according to an email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The ship was named after the father and grandfather of the late senator — a war hero who became a frequent target of Mr. Trump’s ire — and the senator’s name was added to the ship in 2018.
In a May 15  email to U.S. Navy and Air Force officials, a U.S. Indo-Pacific Command official outlined plans for the president’s arrival that he said had resulted from conversations between the White House Military Office and the Seventh Fleet of the U.S. Navy. In addition to instructions for the proper landing areas for helicopters and preparation for the USS Wasp — where the president was scheduled to speak — the official issued a third directive: “USS John McCain needs to be out of sight.”
“Please confirm #3 will be satisfied,” the official wrote.
Journalists confirmed that the email existed, but coverage of the claim did not specify who was purportedly responsible for the request, nor did it indicate whether Trump was aware of any such request. Numerous news sites carried the claim based primarily on the Wall Street Journal‘s reporting, which was based on emails not immediately made available.
CNN’s story added that Navy officials had independently confirmed the rumor:
Two Navy officials confirmed to CNN [on May 29 2019] that the White House Military Office asked lower-level US Navy officials about keeping the ship out of view. One of the Navy officials further clarified Thursday morning that the discussion included obscuring the ship or moving it, which was not practical because the ship was under repairs at the time.
“Once leadership heard about it, they said knock it off,” a senior Navy official told CNN.
Speaking to reporters [the morning of May 30 2019] before leaving the White House, Trump denied knowing about the plan and said that although he “is not a big fan” of McCain, he wouldn’t have supported it.
“Now, somebody did it because they thought I didn’t like him — OK — and they were well-meaning, I will say. I didn’t know anything about it. I would never have done that,” he said.
It was stirred into action by reports military officials had bowed to a White House demand to keep the name of a warship named after President Donald Trump’s late Republican rival John McCain “out of sight” during the U.S. leader’s visit to a naval base in Japan earlier this week.
“The name of USS John S. McCain was not obscured during the POTUS visit to Yokosuka on Memorial Day,” Rear Adm. Charlie Brown, the Navy’s new Chief of Information, wrote [on May 29, 2019], seeking to dispel the claims, which were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
“The Navy is proud of that ship, its crew, its namesake and its heritage,” Brown said.
As many social media users were quick to note, the Wednesday message from the Navy Chief of Information’s office was the first to be tweeted from the official account since January 11, 2014, more than five years ago.
The name of 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 of Information (@chinfo) May 30, 2019
ABC News followed up with even more details in a story the following day, claiming that the White House made the request but that the Navy refused it:
“There was a lower level effort to comply with the request but when leadership became aware they ordered the tarp be taken down,” a U.S. Navy official acknowledged to ABC News. “Navy leadership decided the name should not be obscured.”
Another U.S. official said there had been “an initial discussion about veiling the ship’s name, but senior Navy leadership directed all ships to be in the normal configuration.” The Wall Street Journal reported that the message to cover the ship’s name originated with the White House Military Office.
The claim involving President Trump and the USS John McCain was unconfirmed in at least two respects. Most reporting rested heavily on the Wall Street Journal‘s original anonymous sources — although other networks now have confirmed the reporting with Navy officials. However, many details remain unclear, such as who might have been responsible for such a directive.
We contacted the United States Navy for more details.
On June 1 2019, Navy spokesman Rear Admiral Charlie Brown told NBC News that despite the denials, there was indeed a request to hide the ship’s name from view:
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.