- Leak of Friday meeting details discussion of leaks about meetings
- Graham and Bernie Sanders suggest Trump should say sorry
The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, told staffers an aide’s offensive comment about Senator John McCain – that his opinion should be discounted because “he’s dying anyway” – was inappropriate but should not have been leaked to the media.
Calls for an official apology continued, meanwhile, with one of McCain’s closest friends in Washington suggesting he thought Donald Trump should say sorry himself.
McCain, 81, was the Republican nominee for president in 2008. Last July, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the aggressive brain cancer which killed Senator Ted Kennedy and Beau Biden, son of former vice-president Joe Biden. McCain left Washington in December and had surgery last month for an infection.
Now resting at his Arizona ranch, McCain will this month publish a book, The Restless Wave, in which he is critical of Trump and his record in office.
Reporting Sanders’ comments about leaks, which were made in a private meeting on Friday, the Associated Press cited a person familiar with the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to the source, Sanders told communications staffers the remark by Kelly Sadler, a special assistant to the president, was inappropriate. But the press secretary added that the leak of the comment was selfish and distracted from Trump’s agenda and “everything we’re trying to accomplish for the American people”.
I just wish somebody from the White House would tell the country that was inappropriate
Senator Lindsey Graham
Sanders, the source said, noted that the remark took attention away from Trump’s welcoming home of three Americans previously held in North Korea and a forthcoming summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore. During the meeting, the AP source said, White House director of strategic communications, Mercedes Schlapp, defended Sadler, saying the comment should not have been leaked to the media.
At the White House press briefing on Friday, Sanders declined to condemn Sadler’s comment, saying she would not “validate a leak out of an internal staff meeting”. Sadler has declined to respond to requests for comment.
McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, said on ABC: “I don’t understand what kind of environment you’re working in when that would be acceptable and then you could come to work the next day and still have a job.”
The remark has provided fuel for Trump’s Republican critics. On Saturday Mitt Romney, the 2012 presidential candidate who is now running for the Senate in Utah, wrote on Twitter: “John McCain makes America great. Father, grandfather, Navy pilot, POW hero bound by honor, an incomparable and irrepressible statesman.
“Those who mock such greatness only humiliate themselves and their silent accomplices.”
McCain’s close friend, the South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, told CBS in an interview broadcast on Sunday the remark was a “pretty disgusting thing to say, if it was a joke, it was a terrible joke”.
Speaking on Face the Nation, the senator and sometime presidential golfing companion said: “I just wish somebody from the White House would tell the country that was inappropriate, that’s not who we are in the Trump administration.
“John McCain can be criticised for any political decision he’s ever made or any vote he’s ever cast but he’s an American hero. And I think most Americans would like to see the Trump administration do better in situations like this. It doesn’t hurt you at all to do the right thing and to be big.”
Asked if he thought Trump should apologise, Graham said: “I’ll leave that up to him, but if something happened like that in my office, [if] somebody in my office said such a thing about somebody, I would apologise on behalf of the office.”
Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, told CNN’s State of the Union it was “beyond comprehension” that the White House had not apologised.