Donald Trump has condemned West Wing leakers as “traitors and cowards” as a dispute over a White House aide’s crass remark about senator John McCain extended into a fifth day.
The president tweeted that 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: “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.”
McCain, 81, was diagnosed in July with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said on Monday that Ms Sadler had been “dealt with internally”, but he refused to say how.
Pressed repeatedly on the issue, Mr Shah said Ms Sadler had apologised privately to the McCain family and remains in her position.
But Mr Shah, who led the meeting in which Ms Sadler made the comment, 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.
Ms Sadler called the senator’s daughter Meghan McCain, a co-host of ABC’s The View, to apologise last week. Ms McCain told ABC News that, during their conversation, she asked Ms Sadler to apologise publicly and Ms Sadler had agreed.
“I have not spoken to her since and I assume that it will never come,” Meghan McCain told ABC.
Numerous legislators have called on the White House to apologise, including the Republicans’ number two in the Senate, John Cornyn, who said: “The person who said it should apologise. It’s totally inappropriate.”
White House officials condemned the leak of the private conversation, and some have expressed their support for Ms Sadler.
The comment by Ms Sadler came after McCain, a navy pilot who was beaten in captivity during the Vietnam War, urged his fellow senators to reject Mr Trump’s nominee for CIA director, Gina Haspel.
He said: “Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”
Mr Trump and Mr McCain have had a difficult relationship.
As a Republican presidential candidate in 2015, Mr 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 had the deciding vote against the Republican health care repeal with a dramatic thumbs-down.