By DARLENE SUPERVILLE and JILL COLVIN
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump called West Wing leakers “traitors and cowards” on Monday as a dustup over a White House aide’s crass remark about Arizona Sen. John McCain extended into a fifth day.
In a Monday afternoon tweet, Trump said the “leaks coming out of the White House are a massive over exaggeration put out by the Fake News Media in order to make us look as bad as possible.”
He added of the leakers: “We will find out who they are!”
During a closed-door meeting last week, Trump communications aide Kelly Sadler dismissed McCain’s opposition to the president’s CIA nominee by saying of the Arizona Republican: “He’s dying anyway.” The 81-year-old McCain was diagnosed in July with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said Monday that Sadler had been “dealt with internally.” But he refused to say how.
Pressed repeatedly on the issue at a briefing, Shah said Sadler apologized privately to the McCain family and still remains in her position.
But Shah, who led the meeting in which Sadler made the comment, declined to say whether any disciplinary steps had been taken. He said he could not discuss how the situation was “addressed internally” because then it would no longer be internal.
McCain left Washington in December and few expect him to return.
Sadler called the Arizona Republican’s daughter Meghan McCain, a co-host of ABC’s “The View,” to apologize last week. Meghan McCain told ABC News that, during their conversation, she’d asked Sadler to apologize publicly and that Sadler had agreed.
“I have not spoken to her since and I assume that it will never come,” Meghan McCain told ABC.
White House officials have condemned the leak of the private conversation, and some have expressed their support for Sadler.
Sen. McCain, a Navy pilot who was beaten in captivity during the Vietnam War, urged his fellow senators to reject Trump’s nominee for CIA director, Gina Haspel. He said he believes she’s a patriot who loves the country but “her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”
Trump and the president have had a difficult relationship.
As a GOP presidential candidate in 2015, Trump said McCain was “not a war hero” because he was captured in Vietnam, adding, “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Last July, McCain became the deciding vote against the GOP health care repeal with a dramatic thumbs-down. Trump later told the Conservative Political Action Conference that “except for one Senator, who came into a room at three o’clock in the morning and went like that” —Trump gave a thumbs-down — “we would have had health care (reform), too.”
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.