Last month White House communications aide Kelly Sadler quipped during a meeting that they didn’t need to worry about Senator John McCain’s opposition to President Trump’s nominee for CIA director because “it doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.” On Tuesday evening, deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement: “Kelly Sadler is no longer employed within the Executive Office of the President.”
Under normal circumstances one would expect the White House to quickly fire an aide who mocked a senator battling brain cancer, but that’s not what happened. Sadler made the remark nearly a month ago, and the White House has refused to apologize or discipline her, even as McCain’s family members and GOP lawmakers called on them to do so. Meghan McCain, the senator’s daughter, said that Sadler called her to say she was sorry and promised to apologize publicly as well, but never did.
Just to make sure no one confused Sadler’s exit with an expression of remorse over insulting McCain, an anonymous White House official spoke to the Washington Post, pinning it on the chaos within the Trump administration:
An official said the departure was not spurred by her McCain comments but instead was fueled largely by an internal dispute with the White House director of strategic communications, Mercedes Schlapp, over the fallout from the comment about McCain. It was not clear whether Sadler was fired or forced to resign.
It seems this “internal dispute” was sparked by Sadler openly accusing her boss of leaking during a meeting with the president:
Trump, who was infuriated by the release of the information to the news media, called Sadler and other communications staffers into the Oval Office to ask who might have leaked Sadler’s comments. He did not chastise Sadler for her remarks about McCain, White House aides said. At the meeting, Sadler accused Schlapp, her boss, of leaking the material, causing a rift between the two. Schlapp, who was in the room when Sadler made her comment, denied being the source of the leak.
The White House became even more fixated on leaks after the McCain comment got out, and Sadler’s exit is reportedly the first step of a planned restructuring of Trump’s communications team, which will involve many firings. According to Politico, this leak-prevention plan involves slowly whittling the team down — and the dismissals may not be confined to lower-level staffers:
But instead of a mass exodus, people are expected to leave one by one or in small groups as the White House tries to avoid a spate of negative headlines, or the impression that it’s firing people for allegedly leaking information without any tangible evidence.
Trump recently told people close to him that it’s not just the junior people in the press or communications shop whom he suspects of leaking information, leading some Republicans close to the White House to wonder whether the reorganization could also affect more senior-level staff.
Sadler’s exit underscores the idea that no one is safe, as Trump had directly assured her that she wouldn’t be fired.
“The reaction isn’t good,” said one Republican close to the White House, describing the current mood. “If the president telling you your job is safe isn’t enough for you to keep your job, then what is? Things have spiraled completely out of control.”
But people who don’t trust their co-workers and think they’re about to be fired rarely leak, so the White House should be good.