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

White House budget chief Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump declares national emergency at border Puerto Rico governor threatens legal action over national emergency declaration: 'See you in court' Trump to sign border deal, declare national emergency MORE on Saturday defended the White House aide who made a derisive comment about Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers wait for Trump's next move on border deal Mark Kelly launches Senate bid in Arizona 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 BidenNewsom endorses Kamala Harris for president Trump, Biden in dead heat in hypothetical 2020 matchup among Texas voters Biden calls for reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act MORE and GOP Utah Senate candidate Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump tweets video mocking Dems not cheering during State of the Union For 2020, Democrats are lookin’ for somebody to love Trump religious adviser calls anti-Trump evangelicals 'spineless morons' 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.