Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, asked about the controversial discussion between the White House and lower-level US Navy staffers about keeping the USS John McCain out of President Donald Trump's sight during a recent visit to Japan, insisted Friday that the military will remain apolitical.
"Our business is to run military operations and not to become politicized," Shanahan told reporters during a news conference in Singapore. "I'll wait until I get a full explanation of the facts before I pass judgment on the situation, but our job is to run the military."
Shanahan also said he would not have directed the USS John McCain to be moved.
The secretary's comments come after reports surfaced Wednesday that the White House Military Office and lower-level US Navy officials traded emails about keeping the warship named for the late Arizona Sen. John McCain's father and grandfather, both Navy admirals, out of sight ahead of Trump's trip to Japan. The ship was not moved and nothing was done to obscure McCain's name, Cmdr. Clay Doss, a spokesman for the 7th Fleet, told CNN.
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.
Shanahan said on Thursday that the only ship he had moved was the USS Abraham Lincoln, which has been deployed to the Middle East to deter Iran from any military action.
"I would never dishonor the memory of a great American patriot like Senator McCain. I also think it's important -- I'd never disrespect the young men and women that crew that ship," Shanahan said, adding that he directed his chief of staff to review the matter.
Trump on Thursday denied that he knew about the plan to keep the USS John McCain out of sight but called those involved "well meaning."
"To me, John McCain, I wasn't a fan. But I would never do a thing like that," Trump told reporters. "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."
The Wall Street Journal first reported the discussions about moving the ship. The President ultimately spoke to troops at a Memorial Day event aboard the USS Wasp in Yokosuka, Japan.
Trump and McCain, who was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, were frequently at odds before and during Trump's presidency, and attacks against McCain from the President did not stop after the senator's death last August.
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