White House grilled over aide's mocking of McCain

The White House on Friday said special assistant Kelly Sadler has kept her job amid the controversy over her dismissive remarks about Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDon’t disrespect McCain by torpedoing his clean National Defense Authorization Act Meghan McCain rips Trump's 'gross' line about her dad Trump's America fights back MORE (R-Ariz.), who has been battling brain cancer.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to address the issue on Friday amid calls for Sadler to publicly apologize or to be fired, saying it was a staff matter.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I'm not going to validate a leak, one way or another, out of an internal staff meeting," Sanders said during her Friday press briefing as reporters peppered her with questions. 

The Hill reported Thursday that Sadler, during a meeting at the White House, brushed aside McCain’s criticism of CIA director nominee Gina Haspel by noting “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.”

The remarks have come under bipartisan criticism and have led to negative press for the White House. McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, criticized the comments and questioned why Sadler was still working at the White House.

Sadler called Meghan McCain to apologize after her remarks were published.

A public apology by the White House would likely settle the controversy, but Sanders instead declined to confirm or deny reports about the matter, which have blanketed cable news networks.

She said Sadler is still working at the White House, and defended the president when asked by Reuters reporter Jeff Mason if Trump sets “a tone at the top” that gives staffers the feeling they can make derisive comments about the president’s political opponents.

“There is not a tone set here. We have respect for all Americans and that's what we try to put forward in everything we do, both in word and in action,” Sanders said.

When pressed on the same question shortly after, Sanders added that the president “supports all Americans” and is “working hard to make this country better.”

Trump has had a rocky relationship with John McCain from the start of his presidential campaign. During an interview in 2015, he said John McCain is “not a war hero” even though he was captured and tortured during the Vietnam War.

He went on to add that “he was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

The comments have reverberated across Washington with criticism from both sides of the aisle. 

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBiden: Trump family separation policy could make the US a pariah Elizabeth Warren can unify Democrats and take back the White House Giuliani doubles down on Biden comments: 'I meant that he’s dumb' MORE, a one-time colleague of John McCain's in the Senate, called the report “rock bottom” for the administration, while Republican Rep. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesGOP rep refutes Trump's account of Sanford attacks: 'People were disgusted' Trump claims Sanford remarks booed by lawmakers were well-received Trump vows to stand with House GOP '1,000 percent' on immigration MORE (N.C.) called on the White House and Sadler to issue a public apology.