Sarah Sanders lowers the boom on staff for leaks, on verge of tears

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has had enough with the leaks coming out of the communications department. Friday, in the Roosevelt Room, Sanders was both angry and emotional with her staff over a leak exposing a snide remark made by Kelly Sadler, a top White House aide.

As reported in Axios, the press secretary wasn’t just angry that the remark was made but also that the remark was leaked to the press. As we all know by now, Sadler said of Arizona Senator John McCain, “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.”  Her remark was about McCain’s political opinion on the nominee to be the next CIA director, Gina Haspel. He’s against her confirmation. And then Sanders noted that her anger at staff would probably be leaked.

At yesterday’s meeting of the White House communications team — in the wake of a leak from the prior meeting of a callous remark about John McCain’s brain cancer — a visibly upset and furious Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told the group: “I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too. And that’s just disgusting,” according to a source in the room.

She was right. Her response to the leak was leaked. As ABC News reported, Sanders was tearful because she was so angry. She called the remark “unacceptable”.

Sanders called the comment “unacceptable,” but was said to be more upset about the leak than the off-handed comment from White House staffer Kelly Sadler that McCain’s opposition to their CIA director nominee Gina Haspel “doesn’t matter, because he’s dying anyway.”

Leaks are nothing new from this White House. In fact, I think this White House leaks more than any I’ve ever seen and I don’t understand what has taken them so long to remedy it. This leak, though, was different. This leak was one staffer throwing another staffer under the bus for a remark made during a meeting. This is the kind of remark that chills open discussion. This leak was an attack on a fellow staffer and White House strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp even voiced her support for Sadler. Most importantly, the leak ended up stepping on the really good news coverage of the release of the three Americans held as prisoners in North Korea.

Sanders rightly told her staff that the unacceptable remark didn’t justify the leak. Sadler apologized to the senator’s daughter, Meghan McCain, in a phone call. Though Sadler’s termination was immediately mentioned by many in social media, including Meghan McCain, she is still employed by the White House. The senator’s wife, Cindy McCain tweeted this:

Mostly the remark blurred the personal and the political. Senator McCain’s political opinions and votes are fair game. An ugly off-hand remark about his health isn’t fair. I have been as frustrated as any Republican with McCain over the years and am certainly unhappy with his opinion of the Haspel nomination but the leak is inexcusable. For Democrats and the media to act as though this is the worst thing to ever come out of the mouth of a White House staffer is ridiculous.

Maybe this incident will spur on Sanders to do what she can to plug the leaks, at least those coming out of her part of the West Wing. It’s important for the communications staff to come together as a team to effectively distribute the information coming out of the White House.

I will note that it was Mercedes Schlapp and her husband who made a big deal about leaving the White House Correspondents Dinner this year because of the brutal remarks of a low brow comedienne towards the administration.  Maybe she should have sided with Sarah Huckabee Sanders instead of the staffer. Schlapp is supposed to be a seasoned professional in the White House.

John McCain is facing the end of his life. He also has a new book to promote. He is using his time to air grievances and set the record straight. He is the same person he was before his latest battle with cancer. He’s a cantankerous old man, as he’s always been. He prides himself on that reputation – you know, The Maverick. McCain voted in favor of John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee who was further up the food chain than Haspel in his involvement in the program he now admonishes. Why the objection now? He also voiced regret for choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008. What he doesn’t mention is that his campaign was on the ropes and he was a really bad candidate. The addition of Palin to the ticket energized the base and brought renewed enthusiasm for the Republican ticket.

McCain doesn’t get a pass but he does deserve respect for serving his country and the hope that he finds peace as he exits this world. Kelly Sadler is well-educated and a former editor and reporter. She worked on Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign. She should know by now that every thought that crosses her mind does not need to be uttered out loud. I don’t think she should lose her job but I do hope she’s learned a valuable lesson. Let’s keep the personal and the political parts of life separate.