WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Thursday that "well meaning" aides tried to shield him from view of a warship named for political foe John McCain during a recent visit to Japan, but that he had nothing to do with the effort.
"Somebody did it because they thought I didn't like him, OK?" Trump told reporters at the White House. "And they were well-meaning, I will say ... I didn't know anything about it; I would never have done that."
Trump said aides "thought they were doing me a favor because they know I am not a fan of John McCain."
The Wall Street Journal reported that officials wanted the USS John S. McCain, a warship named for the late Arizona Republican who was often at odds with the president, to be kept "out of sight" during Trump's visit to Japan. That trip included a Trump speech at a nearby ship.
The president spoke while leaving the White House en route to Colorado to deliver the commencement address at the Air Force Academy.
Trump and McCain, who died last year, frequently clashed on issues ranging from health care to Trump's abrasive political style.
During his presidential campaign, Trump mocked McCain for having been "captured" during the Vietnam War. During a political forum in 2015, Trump said the man who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war was "not a war hero," and was called that only "because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Even after McCain's death from cancer in August, Trump has continued to speak of his dislike for his frequent critic.
In his remarks Thursday, Trump said he was not a “big fan” of McCain “in any way, shape, or form,” but added, “I would never do a thing like" avoid sight of the ship bearing his name.
In a tweet responding to the Journal story, the late senator's daughter Meghan McCain described Trump as "a child who will always be deeply threatened" by her father's greatness.
"There is a lot of criticism of how much I speak about my dad, but nine months since he passed, Trump won't let him RIP," Meghan McCain tweeted. "So I have to stand up for him. It makes my grief unbearable."
Speaking on ABC's "The View," Meghan McCain said Thursday that she was concerned about the message the episode sends to the sailors aboard the McCain and other members of the military.
“It’s impossible to go through the grief process when my father, who’s been dead for 10 months, is constantly in the news cycle because the president is so obsessed with the fact that he’s never going to be a great man like he was,” she said.
Launched in 1994, the USS John McCain was initially named for the senator's father and grandfather, both highly decorated admirals in the Navy. In July, a month before the younger McCain's death, the Pentagon added him as a namesake of the ship.
Referring to the war ship, Trump at one point Thursday said, "I couldn't care less whether or not there's a boat named after his father."
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters that he has asked his chief of staff to look into efforts to shield the ship from the president's view. Shanahan said he would not have supported such a request.
"I would never dishonor the memory of a great American patriot like Sen. McCain," he told reporters while on a trip to Singapore. "I would never disrespect the young men and women that crew that ship.“
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment late Wednesday when the story first broke in the Wall Street Journal. But the president posted a tweet minutes later saying he was “not informed” about orders regarding the McCain.
Trump said he did not know who authorized efforts to hide the ship from his view, but told reporters "they thought they were doing me a favor because they know I am not a fan of John McCain."
Trump addressed about 800 men and women aboard the USS Wasp while traveling in Japan over the weekend Memorial Day weekend. The president applauded the sailors in remarks that aired late Monday in the United States.
The Wasp is an amphibious assault ship is part of the U.S. 7th Fleet. The USS John McCain is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. The ship was involved in a major collision off Singapore in 2017 that killed 10 U.S. Navy sailors
Contributing: Nicholas Wu
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump on shielding USS McCain from view: 'Somebody did it,' but he denies involvement