On Thursday, during a White House meeting, Trump administration official Kelly Sadler reportedly mocked John McCain, saying he's "dying anyway," so his opinion on CIA director nominee Gina Haspel isn't relevant. The official in question is Kelly Sadler, a special assistant to President Donald Trump. CNN's Jim Acosta reportedly confirmed the remark with a White House official, who characterized it as a "joke" that "fell flat."
McCain, 81, announced his refusal to vote to confirm Haspel on Wednesday, and urged his colleagues not to do so, citing her having overseen the torture of detainees while working as a CIA officer during the Bush administration. Haspel pointedly refused to directly answer whether she, with the benefit of hindsight, considered such interrogation techniques immoral during her confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
McCain, who was captured and held as a prisoner of war for more than five years during the Vietnam War, is himself a victim of torture. He referred to Haspel's refusal to acknowledge the immorality of torture as "disqualifying," but Sadler apparently didn't think this was anything to worry about, reportedly quipping that the brain cancer-stricken senator would soon be dead.
"It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway," Sadler reportedly said. While The Hill notes that one administration source wasn't sure of her exact words, two sources confirmed the gist of the remarks, identifying it as a joke.
The White House provided the following statement to The Hill regarding Sadler's remarks, not directly addressing them, and instead professing "respect" for McCain: "We respect Senator McCain’s service to our nation and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time."
McCain is suffering from a rare and hyper-aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. The prognosis for people with glioblastoma is very poor, something McCain publicly acknowledged after his diagnosis last year. It's the same form of brain cancer that took the life of former Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy in 2009.
Annie Karni of Politico has further reported that a source told her Sadler called McCain's daughter, The View co-host Meghan McCain, on Thursday. According to Karni, the conversation "didn't go so well."
Meghan McCain, 33, has been very public about the emotional struggle of her father's diagnosis, including during a high-profile, televised conversation with former Vice President Joe Biden, someone who counts her father as a close friend. Assuming the veracity of Karni's source, it sounds as if whatever Sadler said was not to her liking.
Haspel's nomination has become a flashpoint for anti-torture advocates and activists, and a hugely controversial decision for the 100 members of the U.S. Senate. Thus far, only one Democrat, West Virginia's Joe Manchin, has announced he intends to vote to approve Haspel. Manchin has long been one of the most conservative Democrats in Washington.
California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, on the other hand, announced she won't support Haspel on Thursday afternoon, citing the torture issue as the decisive factor.
"I will vote NO on the nomination of Gina Haspel," Feinstein tweeted. "This nomination is bigger than one person. For the Senate to confirm someone so involved with the torture program to highest position at the CIA would in effect tell the world that we approve of what happened. I absolutely do not."
John McCain's wife, Cindy, also responded to Sadler's reported remarks on Thursday, tweeting at the White House official to remind her that the Arizona senator has a family that cares about him.
Beyond Sadler's remark, the White House ― and more specifically, Trump himself ― has long had a tense, awkward relationship with McCain. Although he's largely voted in line with Trump's legislative agenda, with the GOP's proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act sticking out as a huge exception, McCain has spoken out against the president on a number of occasions.
For Trump's part, he mocked McCain's war record during the 2016 presidential campaign, insisting that the senator was not a "hero" because he was captured by the enemy. According to reports, people close to McCain have already informed the White House that they don't want Trump to attend his funeral.