Amid yet another round of criticism of the Trump White House over its treatment of the late Senator John McCain, the whereabouts of one notable character in the long-running feud between McCain and President Donald Trump remains a mystery.
Kelly Sadler was forced out of her gig as a communications official after she infamously said that Team Trump didn’t have to worry about McCain opposing Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel because, as she reportedly put it, “he’s dying anyway.” Since then, few former colleagues have heard from her and none seem to know what she’s doing professionally.
One current West Wing official jokingly compared her situation to someone who gets kidnapped and disappeared by the mob and is “never heard from ever again.”
Among current and former senior staffers at a White House known to extend the offer of soft landings for even disgraced former employees, Sadler’s total silence since her departure has stuck out. But her disappearance has not been because she’s now persona non grata in the administration. In fact, Sadler was offered help at securing another Trump administration gig after her White House departure; she just had no interest in taking it.
“They gave her that option but she told them to fuck off,” a former colleague recalled.
When The Daily Beast called Sadler for comment on Tuesday, and the reporter identified himself and his employer, she replied, “I don’t think so, thank you, goodbye,” and abruptly hung up.
The operating assumption across Trumpworld is that she is still lying low, aware that her name is still firmly associated in Republican circles and elsewhere with mocking a dying senator. That stigma certainly continues to this day with McCain’s recent death from brain cancer.
That Sadler would have, nevertheless, been welcomed back into the administration says a lot about how insulting McCain is a feature, not a bug, when it comes to Trump-world.
When Sadler’s remark leaked to The Hill in May, it set off a firestorm that lasted over a week—a tremendous news cycle length in the oversaturated Trump era. As one former senior White House official marveled, the intensity of the ensuing controversy and internal drama rivaled that surrounding former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who was ousted after it was revealed that two of his ex-wives had accused him of abuse.
Prior to the Hill story, barely anyone outside of political media and GOP circles in Washington, D.C., knew Sadler’s name. By the end of May, she wound up politically toxic and even name-checked during a Saturday Night Live sketch.
Inside the White House, fallout over Sadler’s McCain comments roiled the communications shop. Morale plummeted as colleagues grew increasingly distrustful of each other. The brutal ensuing news cycle burned out many junior staffers, and the president himself grew further fed up with a press team that he saw as largely superfluous, leaky, and prone to missteps.
“I get good enough press by myself,” one former senior White House official recalled the president saying in the wake of the Sadler controversy. “I don’t need a team to do it for me.”
Despite that firestorm, Sadler’s McCain comments weren’t the direct impetus of her exit. Rather, the departure had more to do with a subsequent Oval Office meeting with the president, during which Trump asked Sadler to name colleagues whom she suspected of leaking the McCain comment to the press. Sadler called out her boss, White House strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp—who was standing right next to her at the time.
White House sources partially attributed that front-stabbing to Sadler’s ultimate dismissal. They also said that Sadler had caught some flak internally for a series of minor unforced errors, such as instances in which she blasted out talking points emails to dozens of email addresses without “BCCing,” or keeping private, all of their email addresses.
Two White House aides independently referred to this as the famous “BCC fuck-up” of 2018.
Since the Sadler blow-up, the size of the White House communications operation has shrunk considerably, with many mid-level officials in particularly being ousted or bolting for the exits. But what became of Sadler herself remained a mystery.
Eleven former Trump administration colleagues say they’ve heard nothing from Sadler, or anything about her whereabouts, since her unceremonious departure from the White House comms operation. Two sources independently described her as currently “a ghost” in Trump-world.
Sadler, it appears, wants it that way.