The White House became embroiled in controversy this week when presidential assistant Kelly Sadler reportedly made a cruel joke about Arizona senator John McCain's cancer diagnosis. But now, based on recent reports, it appears as if the White House took more offense to the Sadler leak than to the remark itself. Bustle has reached out to the White House for comment.
That, at the very least, is what was reported by ABC News White House correspondent Tara Palmeri, who detailed what sources told her regarding administration's internal discussions about Sadler on Saturday morning's episode of Good Morning America.
Specifically, Palmeri reported that Sanders spoke to her staff about the controversy, and while she did condemn Sadler's joke ― that the cancer-stricken McCain's opinion on CIA director nominee Gina Haspel didn't matter because he was ""dying anyway" ― she seemed more incensed that the remark had leaked to the press.
"Sources inside the White House tell me that at a meeting on Friday, Sarah Sanders scolded her staff," Palmeri said. "She told her staff that the comment was unacceptable, but was said to be more upset about the leak. Now, that staffer, Kelly Sadler, did not apologize to her colleagues at the meeting, and I'm told that inside the West Wing there's a new sense of paranoia, because there's a feeling that the leak was personally motivated."
Sadler's report remark has been the subject of intense scrutiny and condemnation in recent days, owing to the fact that it took cruel aim at McCain, currently battling brain cancer. The 81-year-old senator is suffering from glioblastoma, a relatively rare, hyper-aggressive form of brain cancer that poses a very poor prognosis for its victims.
McCain is not the first prominent member of the U.S. Senate to be diagnosed with glioblastoma. It's the same form of cancer that killed former Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy in 2009. McCain was diagnosed in the summer of 2017, about one month after a well-publicized bout of apparent confusion during a Senate hearing which fueled speculation about his cognitive health.
Sadler's reported remark about McCain dying came after the Arizona senator announced he would not support the nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director, calling her refusal to acknowledge the immorality of torture "disqualifying."
McCain himself was the victim of torture while being held for years as a prisoner during the Vietnam War, resulting in debilitating lifelong physical injuries. Perhaps the most apparent of these is his inability to raise his arms over his head, the result of his violent plane crash and subsequent lack of medical care, in addition to beatings and torture sustained by his captors.
Notably, Sadler reportedly has the support of at least one administration official, specifically White House Director of Strategic Communications Michelle Schlapp. According to Axios, she stated that she stood behind Sadler, despite the offensive remark about McCain's death.
"You can put this on the record... I stand with Kelly Sadler," she reportedly said. Notably, Schlapp and her husband Matt left the White House Correspondents Dinner early ― reportedly en route to NBC's after-party ― while complaining that comedian Michelle Wolf's jokes were too mean.
It remains to be seen whether Sadler will address the remark publicly, although considering Palmeri's sources claimed she didn't apologize to her colleagues during Friday's internal meeting, it might not be worth holding out much hope for. McCain's wife Cindy and daughter Meghan have already responded publicly to the controversial comment, however, with Cindy tweeting at Sadler about McCain's loving family, and Meghan hitting back with a sharp-edged response on an episode of The View on Friday.