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.
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.”
A newspaper shows a picture of drug lord Joaquin Guzman, aka “El Chapo,” shaking hands with actor Sean Penn, left, as seen at a newsstand in Mexico City on Sunday.(PEDRO PARDO / AFP/Getty Images)
Drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is escorted to a helicopter at Mexico City’s airport on Friday following his recapture during an intense military operation in Los Mochis, in Sinaloa State.(ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic experts document the scene where one man was killed by security forces during the firefight that ensued to capture Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in a house under construction in Los Mochis, Mexico, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016.(Christian Palma / AP)
Federal police patrol on the perimeters of the Altiplano maximum security prison in Almoloya, west of Mexico City, on Saturday, where Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, is being held after his recapture on Friday. Guzman was sent back to the maximum-security prison from where he escaped last July 11 through an elaborate tunnel.(Marco Ugarte / AP)
Mexican marines inspect a manhole where high-powered weapons were found to be abandoned, in the neighborhood where special forces had located the world’s most-wanted drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, in Los Mochis, Mexico, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016.(Christian Palma / AP)
An abandoned weapon is propped against a storm drain wall in the neighborhood where special forces had located the world’s most-wanted drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, in Los Mochis, Mexico, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016.(Christian Palma / AP)
Mexico Atty. Gen. Arely Gomez, second from right, looks at the end of a tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo” Guzman is believed to have escaped at a house in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico.(AFP/Getty Images)
Handout picture released by the Attorney General of Mexico (PGR) showing the alleged end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison.(-- / AFP/Getty Images)
Mexican officials believe a tunnel that has an opening in this home could have been used by Mexican drug lord El Chapo Guzman to escape from an Altiplano prison.(Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images)
Federal policemen inspect a pipeline under construction by the Altiplano prison in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, after Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped.(Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images)
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, is escorted to a helicopter in Mexico City after his February 2014 capture in Mazatlan.(Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press)
A policeman searches outside the Altiplano prison in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, after Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped.(Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images)
Police inspect a vehicle as they search for escaped drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman around the Almoloya de Juarez prison in Toluca, Mexico.(Marco Ugarte / Associated Press)
The Altiplano prison in Almoloya de Juarez, Toluca, Mexico, which Joaquin Guzman escaped.(Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images)
Mexican soldiers search for drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman along the highway between Mexico City and Toluca.(Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images)
Federal police stand outside the Altiplano prison in Almoloya de Juarez, Toluca, Mexico, after Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman escaped.(Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images)
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.
MORE ON ‘EL CHAPO’