The White House on Friday refused either to acknowledge or disown a purported barb about Sen. John McCain's health by a communications staffer.
Instead, press secretary Sarah Sanders suggested questions about the incident were meant to sow discord among President Donald Trump's aides.
"I'm not going to get into a back and forth because people want to create issues of a leaked meeting," Sanders said.
Kelly Sadler, a special assistant who handles surrogate communications, told other staffers during a meeting Thursday that McCain's opposition to Trump's CIA director nominee, Gina Haspel, does not matter because "he's dying anyway," a White House official told CNN.
The official said Sadler meant it as a joke, "but it fell flat."
"I'm not going to comment on an internal staff meeting," Sanders said during her press briefing on Friday.
She confirmed Sadler still works at the White House. And she disputed the suggestion that Trump himself is setting a hurtful tone among his aides with his own disparaging remarks about McCain, who is being treated for brain cancer, and others.
"Certainly there is not a tone set here," Sanders said. "We have a respect for all Americans. That is something we try to do in both word and action."
Meghan McCain, the Arizona Republican's daughter, responded to Sadler's comment Friday on ABC's "The View."
"Kelly, here's a little news flash ... we're all dying. I'm dying, you're dying, we're all dying. And I want to say, since my dad has been diagnosed ... I really feel like I understand the meaning of life, and it is not how you die, it's how you live," she said.
She added, "Don't feel bad for me or my family. We're really strong."