White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said Saturday that a communication staffer’s comment about Sen. John McCain dying was “awful” but not a fireable offense.
Kelly Sadler’s crack that McCain’s opposition to CIA director nominee Gina Haspel didn’t matter because “he’s dying anyway” was just a “joke” told at a private meeting, Mulvaney said in an appearance on Fox News.
“This was a private meeting inside the White House. It was a joke. It was a badly considered joke that she said fell flat,” Mulvaney told Fox.
.@MickMulvaneyOMB: "You have to have a freedom to speak in a private meeting to speak candidly. We've all said things in private, esp. in smaller groups that we work with, that we'd never say publicly…I'm really disappointed that someone would undermine @POTUS by leaking it." pic.twitter.com/MtBw4ImfTK
— Fox News (@FoxNews) May 12, 2018
Sadler, a special assistant, reportedly mocked McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis at an internal meeting one day after the Arizona senator publicly came out against Haspel for her role in the CIA’s torture program.
McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, said she didn’t understand how Sadler did not lose her job over the comment.
The White House is standing behind Sadler and has mostly expressed concern that the public learned about the remark, as Mulvaney did during his Fox appearance.
“I’m really disappointed that someone would undermine the President by leaking that out of a private meeting,” Mulvaney said, adding that the leak “was designed to hurt” Sadler.
The press team has been scrambling to handle the fallout. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders declined to “validate a leak” by responding to a question about it during Friday’s press briefing, but later exploded at communications staff in a meeting, according to a report in Axios.
“I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too,” Sanders said, as a source who was present in the room promptly told Axios. “And that’s just disgusting.”
White House strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp reportedly said: “You can put this on the record…I stand with Kelly Sadler.”