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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Trump to find source of leak after aide’s remark on John McCain made public

Kelly Sadler dismissed opposition to the president’s CIA nominee by saying of Republican: “He’s dying anyway”

In 2015, Donald Trump dismissed John McCain as “not a war hero” because he was captured in Vietnam, adding, “I like people who weren’t captured.” AP Photo / J Scott Applewhite
In 2015, Donald Trump dismissed John McCain as “not a war hero” because he was captured in Vietnam, adding, “I like people who weren’t captured.” AP Photo / J Scott Applewhite

President Donald Trump called West Wing leakers “traitors and cowards” on Monday as a dust-up over a White House aide’s crass remark about Arizona Senator John McCain extended into a fifth day.

In a Monday afternoon tweet, Mr 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 Mr McCain’s opposition to the president’s CIA nominee by saying of the Arizona Republican: “He’s dying anyway.” The 81-year-old was diagnosed in July with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said Monday that Mrs Sadler had been “dealt with internally”. But he refused to say how.

Pressed repeatedly on the issue at a briefing, Mr Shah said she had apologised privately to the McCain family and still remains in her position.

But Mr Shah, who led the meeting in which the comment was made, 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.

Mr McCain left Washington in December and few expect him to return.

Mrs Sadler called the senator’s daughter Meghan McCain, a co-host of ABC’s The View, to apologise last week. Meghan McCain told ABC News that, during their conversation, she had asked the aide to apologise publicly and that Mrs Sadler had agreed.

“I have not spoken to her since and I assume that it will never come,” Meghan McCain told ABC.

Numerous politicians called on the White House to apologise, including No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas, who told the Associated Press on Monday: “The person who said it should apologise. It’s totally inappropriate.”

No. 3 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota said the White House could have handled the incident better.

“The smart thing to do would have been five days ago to just nip it in the bud and come out and apologise for it,” he said.

White House officials have condemned the leak of the private conversation, and some have expressed their support for Mrs Sadler.

In a Senate speech on Monday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell steered clear of Mrs Sadler’s comment but praised the ailing Republican after visiting with him over the weekend in Arizona.

“I told him we miss him,” Mr McConnell said in a Senate speech late Monday. “I was confident I was speaking for everybody in the Senate in conveying our deepest respects for him and all he’s done for the county in his extraordinary life.”

Mr McCain remains outspoken on political and policy debates. Mr McConnell says the beloved, if not “smart-alecky”, colleague had plenty to say about work during the visit.

The comment by Mrs Sadler came after Senator 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 believed she was a patriot who loved the country but “her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying”.

The president and Mr McCain have had a difficult relationship.

While a GOP presidential candidate in 2015, Trump said Mr McCain was “not a war hero” because he was captured in Vietnam, adding, “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Last July, Mr McCain became the deciding vote against the GOP health care repeal with a dramatic thumbs-down. Mr 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” – the president gave a thumbs-down – “we would have had health care (reform), too”.