Anthony Scaramucci, the flashy and sometimes profane Wall Street financier, was brought on as White House communications director last Friday. It’s already clear he’s a lot more than that.
In the span of six days, he has launched a brutally edged campaign to identify White House leakers, threatened to “fire everybody” in the communications shop, and has declared war on chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Scaramucci, who boasted that he reports directly to President Donald Trump, has described his role as “fixing the place,” said one person who spoke with him this week.
And he’s wasting no time.
In a vulgar interview with The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza on Wednesday night, Scaramucci laced into Priebus for trying to “c— block” him from a job in the White House, called him a “f—— paranoid schizophrenic,” and questioned Bannon’s loyalty.
“I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own c—,” he said.
One person who talked to Scaramucci said he talks openly about getting rid of Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chairman whose job has appeared to be in jeopardy for months.
"He’s got to go," this person said, summarizing Scaramucci’s comments about Priebus.
It’s unclear how the New Yorker interview will impact Scaramucci’s standing with Trump, but the president has already praised Scaramucci’s brawler instincts, including his ability to get a retraction from CNN on an article that linked Scaramucci to the Russia investigations. But his attacks on fellow aides are sure to draw some condemnations and questions about his own future in the West Wing.
Scaramucci’s arrival was described by one adviser as “a cannonball from a diving board into a pool.” With his brash outer-borough New York ethos and flair for showmanship, Scaramucci is perhaps more like Trump himself than anyone else on the White House staff—and his appointment is a clear signal that the president is walking away from his initial embrace of establishment Republicans familiar with Washington.
Instead, Trump is choosing the gut-driven approach that won him the presidency. And that especially doesn’t bode well for Priebus.
The chief of staff has seen his power base steadily erode, losing first his deputy Katie Walsh, who departed the administration in March and recently returned to the RNC, and then press secretary Sean Spicer, who resigned after it was clear that Scaramucci would be above him in the West Wing.
Some in the West Wing had thought it would be Priebus who would leave once the news of Scaramucci’s hiring broke.
In a potentially ominous sign, Priebus’ usual defenders in the White House seemed subdued on Thursday, a noticeable shift from earlier in the administration, when public criticism of the chief of staff was met with a rapid response. No one seemed empowered to defend Priebus, unlike in the early days, when two paragraphs in a story about him could prompt six or more phone calls.
One person who spoke to Priebus over the weekend said he’d wanted to make it to a year in the White House, but has settled for staying “at least through health care.”
One reason Priebus and his allies opposed Scaramucci coming on board was they knew “he wouldn’t just be a comms person going on TV,” one West Wing official said.
Priebus has begun calling allies and asking for advice on whether he should stay in the job and how he should handle the situation, according to people familiar with the talks. One such call went to Speaker Paul Ryan earlier this week, who advised Priebus to stay and that the president needed him. “They speak often,” said Doug Andres, a Ryan spokesman, who declined to comment further.
Priebus has continued to hold daily meetings in his office, but people no longer feel like they have to attend, one senior White House official said.
Newly elevated press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to give Priebus a direct vote of confidence at the daily briefing Thursday, saying the president would “let you know” if he wasn’t happy with his staff. “The president enjoys healthy competition,” Sanders said.
Scaramucci got the president’s blessing before going on television and criticizing Priebus on Thursday morning – just before the daily 8 a.m. meeting where Priebus typically tries with little luck to set the agenda for the day.
The communications director, who described Priebus last week as a sibling-style rival, responded to a question about his relationship with the chief of staff by mentioning the biblical brothers Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel.
Scaramucci taunted Priebus over leaks again, hours after posting and then deleting a tweet that seemed to suggest he believed Priebus had been involved in the release of his financial disclosure form, a public document that was released by a federal government agency. “If he wants to prove he’s not a leaker, let him do it,” Scaramucci said on CNN.
He said there are only two people who can be trusted in the White House. “I can tell you two fish that don’t stink,” Scaramucci said to CNN. “That’s me and the president.”
“There are people inside this administration that think it’s their job to save America from this president,” he added.
Priebus told others he did not leak Scaramucci’s financial disclosure form and that he doesn’t understand why Scaramucci would make such an accusation without facts. He has tried to soldier on in the job, showing up early in the West Wing every morning. “Everyone knows he’s not in charge,” said one senior West Wing official.
Whether Scaramucci, who seems to have an innate understanding of Trump, remains his “flavor of the month,” in the words of one adviser, seems unclear. But friends say Trump is already more comfortable with Scaramucci — who is forceful and smooth on TV — and that he respects Scaramucci for his business acumen.
“If this is less of a s—show because Anthony Scaramucci is imposing some discipline and getting things done, that’s good for the country. It’s good for the country to have a functioning government even if you disagree vehemently,” said Stu Loeser, a friend and former press secretary to Michael Bloomberg. “Anthony is helping the president and will continue to help the president.”
Scaramucci doesn’t have much government experience, and that could create problems, said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University, even if Trump loves his machismo and public appearances. The administration is far behind on staffing and has struggled to get its legislative agenda through.
“It is totally out of control, chaos,” Zelizer said. “This is unnerving people in Washington and everywhere, where the president’s advisers can’t get him to do anything and are behaving like this.”
Trent Lott, a lobbyist and former Senate Majority Leader, said he didn’t understand the reasoning behind some of the White House’s actions, particularly the president’s tweets.
“They really need to get some positive things to talk about,” Lott said.