On Wednesday night, I received a phone call from Anthony Scaramucci, the
new White House communications director. He wasn’t happy. Earlier in the
night, I’d tweeted,
citing a “senior White House official,” that Scaramucci was having dinner at the White House with President Trump, the First Lady, Sean Hannity, and the former Fox News executive Bill Shine. It was an interesting
group, and raised some questions. Was Trump getting strategic advice
from Hannity? Was he considering hiring Shine? But Scaramucci had his
own question—for me.
“Who leaked that to you?” he asked. I said I couldn’t give him that
information. He responded by threatening to fire the entire White House
communications staff. “What I’m going to do is, I will eliminate
everyone in the comms team and we’ll start over,” he said. I laughed,
not sure if he really believed that such a threat would convince a
journalist to reveal a source. He continued to press me and complain
about the staff he’s inherited in his new job. “I ask these guys not to
leak anything and they can’t help themselves,” he said. “You’re an
American citizen, this is a major catastrophe for the American country.
So I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who
In Scaramucci’s view, the fact that word of the dinner had reached a
reporter was evidence that his rivals in the West Wing, particularly Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, were plotting against him. While they have publicly maintained that there is no bad blood between them, Scaramucci and Priebus have been feuding for months. After the election, Trump asked Scaramucci to join his Administration, and Scaramucci sold his company, SkyBridge Capital, in anticipation of taking on a senior role. But Priebus didn’t want him in the White House, and successfully blocked him from being appointed to a job until last week, when Trump offered him the communications job over Priebus’s vehement objections. In response
to Scaramucci’s appointment, Sean Spicer, an ally of Priebus’s, resigned his position as press secretary. And in an additional slight to Priebus, the White House’s official announcement of Scaramucci’s hiring noted that he would report directly to the President, rather than to the chief of staff.
Scaramucci’s first public appearance as communications director was a
slick and conciliatory performance at the lectern in the White House briefing room last Friday. He
suggested it was time for the White House to turn a page. But since then, he has become obsessed with leaks and threatened to fire staffers if he discovers that they have given unauthorized information to reporters. Michael Short, a White House press aide
considered close to Priebus, resigned on Tuesday after Scaramucci publicly spoke about firing him. Meanwhile,
several damaging stories about Scaramucci have appeared in the press,
and he blamed Priebus for most of them. Now, he wanted to know whom I
had been talking to about his dinner with the President. Scaramucci, who
initiated the call, did not ask for the conversation to be off the
record or on background.
“Is it an assistant to the President?” he asked. I again told him I
couldn’t say. “O.K., I’m going to fire every one of them, and then you
haven’t protected anybody, so the entire place will be fired over the
next two weeks.”
I asked him why it was so important for the dinner to be kept a secret.
Surely, I said, it would become public at some point. “I’ve asked people
not to leak things for a period of time and give me a honeymoon period,”
he said. “They won’t do it.” He was getting more and more worked up, and
he eventually convinced himself that Priebus was my source.
“They’ll all be fired by me,” he said. “I fired one guy the other day. I
have three to four people I’ll fire tomorrow. I’ll get to the person who
leaked that to you. Reince Priebus—if you want to leak something—he’ll
be asked to resign very shortly.” The issue, he said, was that he
believed Priebus had been worried about the dinner because he hadn’t
been invited. “Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,”
Scaramucci said. He channelled Priebus as he spoke: “ ‘Oh, Bill Shine is
coming in. Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block
these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.’ ”
(Priebus did not respond to a request for comment.)
Scaramucci was particularly incensed by a Politico report about his financial-disclosure form, which he viewed as an illegal act
of retaliation by Priebus. The reporter said Thursday morning that the
document was publicly available and she had obtained it from the
Export-Import Bank. Scaramucci didn’t know this at the time, and he insisted
to me that Priebus had leaked the document, and that the act was “a felony.”
“I’ve called the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice,” he told me.
“Are you serious?” I asked.
“The swamp will not defeat him,” he said, breaking into the third
person. “They’re trying to resist me, but it’s not going to work. I’ve
done nothing wrong on my financial disclosures, so they’re going to have
to go fuck themselves.”
Scaramucci also told me that, unlike other senior officials, he had no
interest in media attention. “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to
suck my own cock,” he said, speaking of Trump’s chief strategist. “I’m
not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the
President. I’m here to serve the country.” (Bannon declined to comment.)
He reiterated that Priebus would resign soon, and he noted that he told
Trump that he expected Priebus to launch a campaign against him. “He
didn’t get the hint that I was reporting directly to the President,” he
said. “And I said to the President here are the four or five things that
he will do to me.” His list of allegations included leaking the Hannity
dinner and the details from his financial-disclosure form.
I got the sense that Scaramucci’s campaign against leakers flows from
his intense loyalty to Trump. Unlike other Trump advisers, I’ve never
heard him say a bad word about the President. “What I want to do is I
want to fucking kill all the leakers and I want to get the President’s
agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people,” he told me.
He cryptically suggested that he had more information about White House
aides. “O.K., the Mooch showed up a week ago,” he said. “This is going
to get cleaned up very shortly, O.K.? Because I nailed these guys. I’ve
got digital fingerprints on everything they’ve done through the F.B.I. and the fucking Department of Justice.”
“What?” I interjected.
“Well, the felony, they’re gonna get prosecuted, probably, for the
felony.” He added, “The lie detector starts—” but then he changed the
subject and returned to what he thought was the illegal leak of his
financial-disclosure forms. I asked if the President knew all of this.
“Well, he doesn’t know the extent of all that, he knows about some of
that, but he’ll know about the rest of it first thing tomorrow morning when I see
Scaramucci said he had to get going. “Yeah, let me go, though, because
I’ve gotta start tweeting some shit to make this guy crazy.”
Minutes later, he tweeted, “In light of the leak of my financial info
which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept
#swamp @Reince45.” With the addition of Priebus’s Twitter handle, he
was making public what he had just told me: that he believed Priebus was
leaking information about him. The tweet quickly went viral.
Scaramucci seemed to have second thoughts. Within two hours he deleted
the original tweet and posted a new one denying that he was targeting the chief of staff. “Wrong!” he said, adding a screenshot of an Axios article that said, “Scaramucci appears to want
Priebus investigated by FBI.” Scaramucci continued, “Tweet was public
notice to leakers that all Sr Adm officials are helping to end illegal
A few hours later, I appeared on CNN to discuss the overnight drama. As
I was talking about Scaramucci, he called into the show himself and
referenced our conversation. He changed his story about Priebus. Instead
of saying that he was trying to expose Priebus as a leaker, he said that
the reason he mentioned Priebus in his deleted tweet was because he
wanted to work together with Priebus to discover the leakers.
“He’s the chief of staff, he’s responsible for understanding and
uncovering and helping me do that inside the White House, which is why I
put that tweet out last night,” Scaramucci said,
after noting that he had talked to me Wednesday night. He then made an
argument that journalists were assuming that he was accusing Priebus
because they know Priebus leaks to the press.
“When I put out a tweet, and I put Reince’s name in the tweet,” he said,
“they’re all making the assumption that it’s him because journalists
know who the leakers are. So, if Reince wants to explain that he’s not a leaker, let him do that.”
Scaramucci then made a plea to viewers. “Let me tell you something about
myself,” he said. “I am a straight shooter.”