The White House staffer who insulted John McCain accused her boss of leaking to the press — right in front of Trump

  • The news website Axios on Sunday described a meeting held by President Donald Trump in which one of the communications staff members in attendance accused another of leaking.
  • Axios said Kelly Sadler blamed her boss, Mercedes Schlapp, for leaks from within the White House; the private Oval Office meeting with Trump came in response to the leaking of an insensitive joke Sadler made about Sen. John McCain.
  • Schlapp was said to have defended Sadler previously in a different meeting about White House leaking.

The White House staffer widely reported to have made insensitive remarks about Sen. John McCain earlier this month accused her boss of leaking information to the press during a meeting the two were attending with President Donald Trump, the news website Axios reported on Sunday.

According to Axios, the staffer who made the remarks, the special assistant Kelly Sadler, was in an Oval Office meeting with Trump and a small group of communications officials – the White House strategic communications director, Mercedes Schlapp; the deputy press secretary, Raj Shah; and the chief of staff, John Kelly – when Trump asked Sadler who was leaking to the press.

Sadler apparently put the blame on Schlapp, her own boss. Axios reported that Schlapp “aggressively” defended herself from Sadler’s accusations in the meeting and that other White House officials later came to her defence.

Axios did not identify its source behind the account of the meeting, which was leaked, but did say that the four officials and Trump were the only people in the meeting but that the door to the outer Oval Office was open at the time.

Earlier this month, Sadler was reported to have dismissed McCain’s objections to Gina Haspel becoming the CIA director with an off-colour remark, saying McCain’s concerns didn’t matter because “he’s dying, anyway.”

The Senate confirmed Haspel on May 17 without a vote from McCain, who has been in Arizona since December battling an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Though the comment drew widespread, bipartisan criticism, the White House has thus far declined to apologise. Axios reported that Trump told Sadler she wouldn’t be fired for the remark, and the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was said to have told the press and communications team that she was more upset that the remark about McCain was leaked than she was about the remark itself.

“I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too,” Sanders correctly predicted during that meeting, according to Axios. “And that’s just disgusting.”

In that same meeting, Schlapp reportedly defended her employee, saying, “you can put this on the record: I stand with Kelly Sadler.”

Trump has long decried leaks, and Axios cited unnamed officials as saying that merely accusing someone of being a leaker, even without presenting evidence to Trump, had become effective ammunition for officials who don’t like each other.

Axios’ Sunday report marks the second time in two months that details of private meetings about leaks have themselves been leaked to the press.