A senior White House official described as "maddening" Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's boasts about sending illegal narcotics to America, but he declined to say Sunday if actor Sean Penn faced potential legal liability for meeting with the fugitive drug kingpin.
Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, was asked on several TV talk shows Sunday about Guzman’s recapture on Friday and the surprising disclosure that Penn had interviewed him at length in October for a potential film project.
McDonough focused on what he called Guzman’s “braggadocios” comments about how his cartel has distributed illegal drugs throughout the world.
"I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world,” Guzman told Penn, according to the actor's account in Rolling Stone. “I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats."
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” McDonough called the remarks “maddening.”
“We see a heroin epidemic, opioid addiction epidemic in this country,” he said. “We’re going to stay on top of this with our Mexican counterparts until we get that back in the box. But El Chapo is behind bars and that’s where he should stay.”
McDonough said he had not read the Rolling Stone interview but had read reports about it. McDonough was asked if the United States would help facilitate Penn being questioned by Mexican law enforcement if they wanted it.
“It poses a lot of very interesting questions, both for him and for others involved in this so-called interview,” McDonough said. “I’m not going to get ahead of it.”
Separately on ABC’s “This Week,” McDonough said he would “let somebody else sort out what Sean Penn did and didn’t do.”
Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, who also appeared on “This Week,” first brushed off questions about Penn’s role.
“Sean Penn is not someone I spend a lot of time thinking about,” the Florida senator said. “I didn't even know he was still around. I think he made movies a long time ago or something.”
Rubio said he hoped that the Mexican government extradites Guzman to the United States. Then he returned to Penn's role in the case.
“If one of these American actors, who have benefited from the greatness of this country, who have made money from our free enterprise system, want to go fawn all over a criminal and a drug trafficker in their interviews, they have a constitutional right to do it,” he said. “I find it grotesque.”
A Justice Department spokesman Sunday declined to comment on questions surrounding Penn’s role.
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