A West Wing aide‘s morbid remark about gravely ill Senator John McCain has not yielded widespread White House soul searching.
Instead it has produced a push to fire those responsible for leaking that story and others that have bedevilled US President Donald Trump‘s administration.
Nearly a week after Kelly Sadler dismissed McCain‘s opinion on Trump‘s CIA nominee during a closed-door meeting by saying “He‘s dying anyway,” a torrent of criticism has rained down upon the White House.
The administration has repeatedly declined to publicly apologise, but the fallout has shaken the West Wing, where the focus remains on who leaked to the media.
Trump is demanding that whoever let the story go public be fired, according to a White House official and an outside Trump adviser. Neither was authorised to speak publicly about private conversations.
Leaks have long been a problem for Trump‘s White House, but this one has drawn particular scrutiny within the building due to the staying power of the damaging story.
Several senior officials, including chief of staff John Kelly and counsellor to the president Kellyanne Conway, have called closed-door meetings to warn junior staffers that a shake-up could be in the offing. The mood has grown increasingly tense.
“It‘s an honour and a privilege to work for the president and to be part of his administration. And anybody who betrays that I think is a total and complete coward and they should be fired,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders this week.
“We‘ve fired people over leaking before.”
Rumours have been circulating over who is responsible for the leak, and chatter about aides looking for the exits has picked up, though previous declarations of crackdowns did not yield shake-ups or end the leaks.
Trump has claimed the reports of leaking are exaggerated, but he also suggested in a provocative tweet this week that those who do so are “traitors”.
National Security Adviser John Bolton said that some leakers were “national security risks” and said Kelly was organising an effort to cut them down.
“The president has to have advisers around him who can have open candid discussions and then not read about him the next day in the newspapers or watch them on television,” Bolton told Fox News Radio.
Conway said on Thursday she knew the identity of some of the leakers but did not say what repercussions might be forthcoming.
She told Fox News that there is “99.8% of the information some of us know in this place that never gets leaked”.
Leaks are nothing new to any White House, but they have been far more pervasive in the Trump administration.
In the president‘s eyes, the number of unflattering leaks has been evidence that a “Deep State” of career officials scattered throughout the government is conspiring against him.
But Trump – who has been known to leak himself – has had a love-hate relationship with the practice long before he came to Washington.