CNN  — 

President Donald Trump didn’t know that the White House Military Office asked lower-level US Navy officials to keep the USS John S. McCain out of his sight during his recent trip to Japan. But, man, did he ever set the table for something like that to happen.

Witness how Trump reacted Thursday morning to the story of the disappearing of the ship during his trip:

“I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t involved. I would not have done that. I was very angry with John McCain because he killed health care. I was not a big fan of John McCain in any way, shape or form. I think John McCain had a lot with getting President (George W.) Bush – a lot to do with it to go into the Middle East, which was a catastrophe. To me, John McCain, I wasn’t a fan. But I would never do a thing like that. 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.”

How could anyone ever get the idea Trump didn’t like the late Arizona senator???? (The ship, by the way, was originally named after McCain’s father and grandfather – the late senator was added as a namesake in 2018.)

Maybe because Trump said this about McCain, who spent five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, back in 2015: “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Or because Trump relentless attacked McCain during the 2018 midterms – while the Arizona senator was fighting a terminal brain cancer diagnosis – for casting a vote against the so-called “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act. One example: “Another person campaigned for eight years. ‘Repeal and replace.’ And we were a little surprised when the thumb went down,” Trump said at a campaign rally in North Dakota in June 2018.

Or because Trump initially refused to fire – or discipline – a White House aide named Kelly Sadler, who reportedly reacted to McCain’s opposition to the President’s pick for the CIA by saying, “He’s dying anyway.” (Sadler left the White House a month after her comment went public.)

Or because Trump, on Thursday, memorialized the late Sen. Thad Cochran (Mississippi) by taking a not-so-veiled shot at McCain: “Very sad to hear the news on the passing of my friend, Senator Thad Cochran. He was a real Senator with incredible values - even flew back to Senate from Mississippi for important Healthcare Vote when he was desperately ill. Thad never let our Country (or me) down!”

You get the idea. If you work for Trump in the White House – or, well, have been alive in America for the last 3+ years, you understand that Trump doesn’t think much of McCain and might not take kindly to seeing the name of his nemesis on a US ship while in Japan.

Trump himself effectively validated that decision in his comments Thursday – noting that whoever ordered this done was “well-meaning.” Uh, what? Well-meaning how, exactly? Well-meaning by trying to hide a ship named after three decorated sailors because one of them the President didn’t see eye-to-eye with in politics? What, possibly, could be “well-meaning” there? Unless Trump means that this person knew that he disliked McCain, wanted to please the President, and so ordered the ship out of sight.

There’s a bigger point here. Trump often seeks to distance himself from the behavior of those who work for or support him by saying things like he said Thursday morning: “I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t involved.” It’s his standard reaction to things like former KKK leader David Duke’s endorsement of his presidential campaign. Or to questions about how he repeatedly played on racial animus and stereotypes for political benefit during the campaign, and whether that emboldened white supremacists ahead of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

On their face, Trump’s denials and disavowals are literally correct. He didn’t order that the USS John S. McCain be moved so that he would never see it during his trip to Japan. He didn’t hold a torch and march through Charlottesville’s streets chanting “Jews will not replace us.” But that isn’t really the point. Because in both those situations, Trump set the tone – in his administration and in the country – where people felt empowered to take those actions.

Don’t believe me? Ask yourself this: If Trump had simply said “John McCain and I don’t agree on every issue but I respect and admire his service to our country” and never anything else, do you really think someone in the White House Military Office would send an email to US Navy officials asking them to make sure the USS McCain is never seen by the President?

The answer, if you are being honest, is OF COURSE NOT.

The fact is that Trump provides cover for this sort of garbage by the way in which he conducts himself and his office. He might not have sent the email about the USS John McCain himself. But without his past attacks on McCain, that email never gets sent.