White House denies misleading public in aircraft carrier mix-up

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday denied that the Trump administration misled the public when the president said last week that a U.S. aircraft carrier was heading toward the Sea of Japan.
 
“The president said that we have an armada going toward the [Korean Peninsula]. That is fact. It happened. It is happening, rather,” Spicer said during a press briefing.
 
The Navy announced on April 9 that its Carl Vinson Strike Group would skip a regularly scheduled visit to Australia and head toward the western Pacific Ocean, a move the White House later said was meant as a deterrent to North Korea's recent provocations.
 
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Asked about the decision to send those ships to North Korea during a White House press briefing last week, Spicer framed the move as a deterrent. 
 
"A carrier group is several things. The forward deployment is deterrence, presence. It’s prudent. But it does a lot of things. It ensures our — we have the strategic capabilities, and it gives the president options in the region," he said at the time.

Defense Secretary James Mattis added to the confusion when he told reporters last week that the strike group was on its was to the Sea of Japan, but said there was no specific reason for the move. 

"She’s stationed there in the western Pacific for a reason. She operates freely up and down the Pacific, and she’s just on her way up there because that’s where we thought it was most prudent to have her at this time." 

But a Navy photograph taken April 15 shows the strike force in the Sunda Strait, an area off the coast of Indonesia and thousands of miles from North Korea, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
 
Administration officials described to the Times what the paper referred to as a "glitch-ridden sequence of events ... [that] perpetuated the false narrative that an American armada was racing toward the waters off North Korea." 
 
Spicer denied the White House had misled the public and blamed the Pentagon for any confusion.
 
“[U.S. Pacific Command] put out a release talking about the group ultimately ending up in the Korean peninsula, that’s what it will do,” Spicer said. 
 
“I think we were asked very clearly about the use of a carrier group in terms of a deterrence and foreign presence and what that meant. That’s what we discussed. I would refer you back to any other issues with that to the Department of Defense.”
 
Spicer added: “What part is misleading? I’m trying to figure that out. We answered the question on what signal it sent. I’m not the one who commented on timing.”
 
The Defense Department told the Times that the Carl Vinson is now headed for Korea and will arrive in the area next week. 
 
Lawmakers have criticized the administration for sending mixed signals. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsAngus King: Schumer is in a 'difficult place' Sunday shows preview: Trump plans next steps The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Maine) said in a radio interview Wednesday the miscommunication was "troubling."
 
"It certainly shows a breakdown in communications that is troubling because the president is commander in chief and [Defense] Secretary [James] Mattis apparently, according to press reports ... told him that this carrier and the destroyers were headed toward North Korea as a show of force when, in fact, they were headed in the completely opposite direction to Australia. And its troubling if we don't know where our assets are," Collins said. 
 
"It's also so surprising. Every time I have seen that map that shows where our naval assets are, believe me, the Pentagon knows exactly where they are. So I suspect there was some just terrible miscommunication but it should not have occurred."