Mulvaney defends White House aide over 'dying' McCain comment: It was 'joke' in 'private meeting'

White House budget chief Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOn The Money: Trump rips Fed over rate hikes | Dems fume as consumer agency pick refuses to discuss border policy | Senate panel clears Trump IRS nominee Trump pick to head watchdog agency is who consumers need Dems fume as Trump's consumer bureau pick refuses to discuss role in border policy MORE on Saturday defended the White House aide who made a derisive comment about Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainObama, Bush veterans dismiss Trump-Putin interpreter subpoena Controversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws Trump vows to hold second meeting with Putin MORE (R-Ariz.), saying the real issue was that the "bad joke" had been leaked to the press.

“This was a private meeting inside the White House. It was a joke. It was a badly considered joke that she said fell flat,” Mulvaney, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said during an appearance on Fox News. 

But Mulvaney argued that the leak of the comment posed the greater issue: "The leak was designed to hurt that person. Also, it completely ignored the harm it would do to the McCain family, which is doubly inconsiderate."

ADVERTISEMENT

The Hill first reported Thursday that special assistant Kelly Sadler had mocked McCain's brain cancer diagnosis a day after the Arizona Republican had come out against Trump's pick to lead the CIA, Gina Haspel.

“It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway,” Sadler said, according to a source familiar with the remarks at the internal meeting.

The White House on Friday faced backlash over the comment from lawmakers and members of the media, with figures such as former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Trump: Biden would be ‘dream’ opponent ‘Street fighter’ Avenatti says he’s giving ‘serious thought’ to White House run MORE and GOP Utah Senate candidate Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Romney: Trump's remarks at Putin summit 'disgraceful and detrimental to democratic principles' Utah's largest paper compares child separation to war crimes in scathing editorial MORE blasting those mocking McCain.

McCain, 81, is in Arizona battling brain cancer.

Sarler called McCain's daughter, Meghan McCain, after news broke of her comment, a source told The Hill on Thursday.

The senator's wife Cindy chided Sadler on Twitter over the comment, while Meghan McCain suggested that the White House aide should be fired.

Despite the controversy over the remark, Mulvaney said Saturday he does not support calls for Sadler to be fired.

“You have to have freedom to speak in a private meeting. We have all said things in private ... that we would never say publicly. I think she handled it appropriately,” he said.