A White House aide who dismissed Sen. John McCain’s opposition to President Trump’s CIA nominee as irrelevant because he was “dying anyway” no longer works for the president.
Kelly Sadler’s comments about the Arizona Republican, who has been at home fighting brain cancer, sparked a weeks-long saga after they were made public last month.
“It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway,” she said during a well-attended White House communications meeting on May 10, shocking some staffers, according to a White House official with knowledge of the comment.
“Kelly Sadler is no longer employed within the Executive Office of the President,” White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement Tuesday evening.
Sadler could not be reached for comment.
An official said the departure was not spurred by her McCain comments but instead was fueled largely by an internal dispute with the White House director of strategic communications, Mercedes Schlapp, over the fallout from the comment about McCain. It was not clear whether Sadler was fired or forced to resign.
Sadler, who led surrogate affairs for the White House, often sent comments on illegal immigration to reporters and tried to arrange for television personalities, outside groups and others to support the administration’s policies.
Sadler’s comments became a maelstrom because neither she nor anyone else in the White House publicly apologized — even after McCain family members, Republican senators and others expressed outrage. The president, who very rarely says sorry, did not demand an apology — even though other aides said Sadler should.
McCain — a Navy officer who was captured in Vietnam after his aircraft crashed and was tortured as a prisoner of war — urged his Senate colleagues to oppose Gina Haspel’s nomination to lead the CIA, citing her past connections to interrogation methods that critics said amounted to torture. McCain has frequently been a target of Trump, who still occasionally derides him privately, according to aides.
At a news briefing after Sadler’s comments were reported, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to address the attack on McCain — instead saying the problem was that someone revealed Sadler’s comments to the news media. The White House never disputed the comments.
“I'm not going to get into a back-and-forth because people want to create issues of leaked staff meetings,” she said.
Trump, who was infuriated by the release of the information to the news media, called Sadler and other communications staffers into the Oval Office to ask who might have leaked Sadler’s comments. He did not chastise Sadler for her remarks about McCain, White House aides said. At the meeting, Sadler accused Schlapp, her boss, of leaking the material, causing a rift between the two. Schlapp, who was in the room when Sadler made her comment, denied being the source of the leak.
Sanders later chastised White House communications staffers for releasing the information to reporters.
“I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too,” she derisively said to her staff, according to people familiar with the meeting, in comments first reported by Axios.
The White House then cut down the size of communications meetings, aides said.
On Wednesday morning, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway said Sadler is still welcome to work in a different role in the administration.
“Kelly Sadler has been told there are administration jobs that fit with her skill sets and her experience,” she said.