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

White House budget chief Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOvernight Finance: Watchdog weighs probe into handling of Cohen bank records | Immigration fight threatens farm bill | House panel rebukes Trump on ZTE | Trump raises doubts about trade deal with China Under-resourced kids depend on after-school and summer programs Republicans in red states face political dilemma tied to taxes MORE on Saturday defended the White House aide who made a derisive comment about Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainHow House Republicans scrambled the Russia probe The Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by CVS Health - A pivotal day for House Republicans on immigration 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."

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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 BidenBiden says 'enough is enough' after Santa Fe school shooting Zinke provided restricted site tours to friends: report Democrat wins Philadelphia-area state House seat for the first time in decades MORE and GOP Utah Senate candidate Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDemocrat wins Philadelphia-area state House seat for the first time in decades How the embassy move widens the partisan divide over Israel Shep Smith: Jeffress views on other religious groups, LGBT community 'are well-documented' 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.