The Pentagon doesn’t need to investigate a White House directive for the U.S. Navy to move the warship USS John S. McCain from view before President Donald Trump’s recent trip to Japan, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Sunday.
The White House military office requested that the Seventh Fleet keep the warship “hidden from view,” Shanahan told reporters en route to South Korea. But the directive wasn’t carried out, and “all ships remained in normal configuration during the visit,” he said.
“No, I am not planning any IG investigation,” Shanahan said when asked if the inspector general would investigate. No investigation was needed “because there was nothing really carried out,” he said.
Trump said on Thursday that a “well-meaning” person appears to have made the request, but said he personally would not have done so. The ship carries the name of the late Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona who was a frequent critic of Trump, as well as his father and grandfather.
Trump’s animosity toward McCain is well known. Early in his presidential campaign Trump referred to the senator’s years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam by saying, “I like people that weren’t captured.” The president wasn’t invited to McCain’s funeral in 2018.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, on “Fox News Sunday,” called the USS McCain incident “much ado about nothing.”
The unidentified staff member behind the request wouldn’t be disciplined for asking if the ship should be visible given the president’s “well known” feelings about the late senator, he said.
“If you understood how any people were involved in this, you understand the number of folks who could have asked this question,” Mulvaney said. He said neither he nor Trump knew about the request and suggested it may have come from a low-level White House staffer.
“If a 23- or 24-year-old person says, ‘Look, is it really a good idea for this ship to be in the background?’ that is not an unreasonable question to have,” Mulvaney said.
According to a Politico report citing the chief of Navy information, there was a request “to minimize the visibility of USS John S. McCain, however, all ships remained in their normal configuration.”
The USS John S. McCain is currently docked for repairs after a crash off the coast of Singapore in August 2017, in which ten sailors died.
Shanahan also said he couldn’t confirm a report from a South Korean newspaper last week that North Korea’s top envoy for nuclear discussions with the U.S. had been executed after Trump’s summit with leader Kim Jong Un abruptly ended without a deal.
Kim Hyok Chol, who led working-level negotiations for the February summit in Hanoi, was executed by firing squad after being charged with espionage for allegedly being co-opted by the U.S., the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said Friday, citing an unidentified source.
“First of all, I haven’t seen or heard anything that confirms” the execution, Shanahan said, adding the U.S. needs to get some facts on what happened.
Asked about Trump’s close relationship with Kim Jong Un — in 2018, Trump said the pair “fell in love” — Mulvaney said on Fox that “having a relationship with a person” can never be a bad thing “regardless of what they might be doing domestically or internationally.”
Shanahan, who plans to meet with South Korean officials on Monday, said it wasn’t necessary to restart major military exercises with the longstanding U.S. ally.
“I am confident that we have the readiness that we are required to have,” he said.
Bloomberg writer Ben Brody contributed to this report.