The White House aide who mocked Sen. John McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis made an “awful” joke but doesn’t deserve to be fired for a comment she made privately, according to President Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney.
“I think the remarks were awful, but let’s look at this in context,” Mulvaney told FOX Business’ Neil Cavuto during an interview on Saturday. “That was said in a private meeting inside the White House... It was a joke. It was a badly considered joke, an awful joke.”
After McCain publicly opposed Gina Haspel as Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, Kelly Sadler, a special assistant to the president, reportedly said in a closed-door meeting that “it doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.”
The Arizona Republican, who was diagnosed in July with primary glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer, issued a statement ahead of Haspel’s confirmation hearing urging his colleagues to vote against her, citing her “involvement in the so-called enhanced interrogation program” after 9/11.
"I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense," McCain said in a statement. "However, Ms. Haspel's role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying."
Sadler reportedly called the senator’s daughter Meghan McCain to apologize for the comment, but during a “The View” the next day, McCain said she was surprised Sadler was still employed by the White House. During a press briefing on Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to comment, saying she would not “validate a leak”.
Mulvaney echoed Sanders’ sentiment, criticizing whomever leaked the joke to the public, which he said undermined the Trump administration.
“You have to have some freedom to speak candidly in a private meeting,” he said. “We’ve all said things in private, especially in smaller groups with people we work with, that we’d never said publicly. She’s handled it appropriately.”