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White House cancels daily communications meeting after McCain joke leaks

The White House's daily communications staff meeting has not taken place for several days in the wake of someone leak...

Posted: May 18, 2018 8:09 AM
Updated: May 18, 2018 8:09 AM

The White House's daily communications staff meeting has not taken place for several days in the wake of someone leaking staffer Kelly Sadler's joke that Sen. John McCain's opinion of Gina Haspel, confirmed Thursday as CIA director, doesn't matter because "he's dying anyway."

A senior White House official said the daily communications staff meeting, which brought together more than two dozen press and communications staffers each morning, had not been held for several days.

The New York Times first reported the news.

The senior White House official said the large daily meeting had been suspended indefinitely and was not likely to return to the schedule. Instead, various groups of communications or press aides have met separately in smaller numbers this week, part of a larger effort to streamline what has been a chaotic press shop in recent weeks.

Discussions about ending the sometimes unwieldy morning meeting had occurred before the Sadler leak, the senior official said, but senior staffers decided to pull the trigger on a number of internal changes in the wake of the McCain controversy.

Senior White House aides have struggled to crack down on leaks since the beginning of the Trump administration and have employed a number of tactics to stop information from ending up in reporters' hands -- including an infamous surprise cellphone check last year under former press secretary Sean Spicer and a subsequent ban on personal cellphones in the West Wing that has ultimately failed to stop leaks.

Multiple White House aides and people close to the administration have described the increasing frequency of leaks both as a result of the communications director vacancy and a symptom of chief of staff John Kelly easing his grip on West Wing operations.

Since former communications director Hope Hicks left the administration in February, several names have been floated as potential replacements -- including strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp and Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh -- but internal conflict has so far prevented the President from picking either one, sources say. Kellyanne Conway, presently counselor to Trump, has also been floated as a potential communications director, but it is unclear whether she would accept the position.

The leak of Sadler's McCain comment rocked the West Wing last week and fostered a new sense of suspicion and mistrust within the communications shop.

Trump took to Twitter on Monday to slam the people who leaked Sadler's remark as "traitors and cowards," and Conway later suggested during a Fox News appearance that she expects personnel changes as a result of the leak.

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