WASHINGTON — A White House communications aide who made headlines in May for cracking a macabre joke about the health of Senator John McCain has left the White House.
The aide, Kelly Sadler, made off-the-cuff comments about the Republican senator’s opposition to President Trump’s nominee for C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, saying that it did not matter because Mr. McCain was “dying anyway.”
Mr. McCain, a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, has a malignant brain tumor and has been in treatment for several months. The joke was shared with the news media, igniting a firestorm in which the president personally promised to pursue leakers.
The White House addressed the departure in a brief statement on Tuesday evening, saying that Ms. Sadler was “no longer employed within the executive office of the president.” The move was first reported by CNN.
Still, Ms. Sadler did not leave in light of her comments, according to two people familiar with the situation.
Instead, they suggested that Ms. Sadler was pushed out over reports that she had told Mr. Trump that Mercedes Schlapp, the White House strategic communications director, had been the one leaking to the news media. Tensions between the two had reached a point where Ms. Sadler, who worked in the White House communications office focusing on immigration, and Ms. Schlapp were unable to be in the same room together, White House aides said.
The White House in recent weeks has reduced the size of the daily communications meeting, and aides have discussed decreasing the size of the communications staff. Such changes have been threatened before, but on Tuesday, one senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said that more departures may be coming.
In the days after Ms. Sadler’s comments on Mr. McCain, White House officials dodged questions on whether what Ms. Sadler had said was inappropriate. Instead, the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and her deputy Raj Shah have suggested that the leaks were worse than the actual comments. Mr. Shah stressed that the situation was an internal matter, and in an appearance last month on “Fox & Friends,” the president’s preferred TV program, Ms. Sanders targeted leakers in particular.
“I think it is disgusting and some of the most shameful behavior that you can ever engage in,” Ms. Sanders said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to work for the president and to be part of his administration. Anybody who betrays that, I think, is a total and complete coward. And they should be fired.”
Members of the Republican leadership did not publicly rally around Mr. McCain after the comments were made. Several Republican senators who met with the president shortly after said they did not have time to bring up the issue.
But others lashed out at the White House for its insensitivity.
“People have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with this administration,” former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in a statement. “Given this White House’s trail of disrespect toward John and others, this staffer is not the exception to the rule; she is the epitome of it.”
Mr. McCain’s family expressed astonishment and outrage after the remark became known.
“May I remind you my husband has a family, 7 children and 5 grandchildren,” his wife, Cindy McCain, wrote to Ms. Sadler on Twitter.
His daughter Meghan McCain asked for a public apology from Ms. Sadler. Ms. Sadler made no public comment but called Ms. McCain to apologize.
At ABC News, on an email chain that included the White House statement about Ms. Sadler’s departure, one network employee — Ms. McCain — replied to everyone: “Bye, Felicia.”
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