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

White House budget chief Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyWhite House rejects Dem request for documents on Trump-Putin communications Consumer bureau chief reverses efforts to sideline advisory panels Mulvaney poised to become permanent White House chief of staff: report MORE on Saturday defended the White House aide who made a derisive comment about Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLou Dobbs: Political criticism of McCain 'not an exhumation of his body' Trump rips McCain, says he gave Steele dossier to FBI for 'very evil purposes' The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game 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 BidenAmy Poehler reveals which Dem candidates her 'Parks and Recreation' character might vote for The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game 2020 Dems avoid this year's AIPAC conference MORE and GOP Utah Senate candidate Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump's attacks on McCain exacerbate tensions with Senate GOP Lou Dobbs criticizes Republicans 'undercutting' Trump on 'nasty remarks about John McCain' GOP senator: Trump's criticism of McCain 'deplorable' 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.