- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2019

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan said Thursday he’s ordered his chief of staff to investigate the military’s role in an apparent White House directive to conceal the name of the Navy warship USS John S. McCain during President Trump’s visit to Japan last weekend.

Speaking to reporters while traveling in Asia, Mr. Shanahan vehemently disputed the notion that he had anything to do with obscuring the ship or covering up its name, and he suggested he’d had no conversations with military or White House officials about the ship.

“I would never dishonor the memory of a great American patriot like Sen. McCain,” Mr. Shanahan said, as quoted by Voice of America. The ship’s namesake is in honor of McCain, his father and grandfather. “I’d never disrespect the young men and women who crew that ship.”

The acting Pentagon chief said he’s directing his chief of staff to look into the issue, and he said he was unaware of it until he read about it in news reports.

The embarrassing incident — in which the White House discussed with military officials the idea of tarping over the ship and covering up any references to the late senator during the president’s visit — comes at a crucial moment for Mr. Shanahan, who will soon appear on Capitol Hill for confirmation hearings. Mr. Trump nominated him earlier this month to become permanent Pentagon chief.

The flap is the latest chapter in a longstanding feud between Mr. Trump and McCain. The president on Thursday reiterated that he’s “not a big fan” of the late Arizona Republican but denied having anything to do with the incident, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

While parts of the ship were reportedly covered with a tarp to obscure its name, those tarps were apparently removed before Mr. Trump arrived for his Memorial Day weekend visit.

“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 Information Officer Rear Adm. Charlie Brown tweeted.

Meanwhile, Mr. Shanahan is taking heat for the incident. Some critics argue it’s exactly the type of move Mr. Shanahan might make to try and ingratiate himself with Mr. Trump.

“Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis would never have agreed to this. But his successor may well have gone along with it,” Eliot A. Cohen, professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in a piece for the Atlantic on Thursday.

“He is, after all, only an acting secretary, and desires the real title from a boss who likes to string ambitious men and women along,” said Mr. Cohen, who served as a counselor to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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