Scaramucci’s short, wild ride through Trump’s White House

Financier Anthony Scaramucci came into his new role as White House communications director threatening “to fire everybody.”

Ten days later, he was pushed out before lunch by John Kelly, the chief of staff who replaced the chief of staff Scaramucci was instrumental in pushing out.

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Telling Scaramucci he needed to go was one of Kelly’s first acts after being sworn in Monday. The retired Marine general was amazed Scaramucci hadn’t been disciplined for his profane rants about other West Wing aides published in The New Yorker and couldn’t imagine him staying in the West Wing, several White House officials said. Scaramucci was spotted at the swearing-in ceremony, looking grim—but at that point still unaware of what was coming, said people familiar with how the day unfolded.

Scaramucci arrived at work Monday, Kelly’s first day, with a plan to announce changes in the communications team — a move intended to further marginalize staff brought from the Republican National Committee. Instead, Kelly told him he needed to go, meeting with Scaramucci in his West Wing office without President Donald Trump present.

“No way could he work with Kelly,” one White House official said. “His antics over the past week were crazy by any standard.”

“The president certainly felt that Anthony’s comments were inappropriate for someone in that position and he didn’t want to burden Gen. Kelly also with that line of succession,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters later in the day.

The reality, described in interviews by more than a half-dozen administration officials and others close to the White House, was even more complicated. Scaramucci’s arrival in the West Wing six months into Trump’s presidency seemed to herald a return to the visceral and brash New York ways of the campaign —and a rejection of the clubby, more buttoned-up instincts of Republican operatives brought into the administration by Priebus from the RNC. Instead, it brought more chaos to a White House defined by disorder.

Scaramucci spoke in a thick New York accent and appeared to share the profane and wheeling-dealing business ways of his boss. He brought a swagger into the White House that many other staffers lacked, staring down aides, bursting into rooms and making it known he was in charge. Sean Spicer, the outgoing press secretary, resigned after warning Scaramucci would do damage to the administration. Chief strategist Steve Bannon and former chief of staff Reince Priebus opposed his appointment, too, though Priebus tried to tell others after the fact that he loved Scaramucci. An assistant press secretary, Michael Short, resigned last week, after Scaramucci told POLITICO he planned to fire him.

“I can tell you two fish that don’t stink, that’s me and the president,” Scaramucci said when taking the job.

He threatened leakers publicly and privately and bragged about breaking White House rules of West Wing employees contacting Department of Justice officials, though it was unclear if he actually did it.

In meetings, Scaramucci repeatedly reminded aides that he wasn’t “one of them,” one White House official said. He often talked about his close personal relationship with the president and the autonomy and leeway he had to make decisions, this official said.

In the few meetings he held with communications staffers, he mostly just talked about his desire to cut off embarrassing “leaks” of anonymous quotes from inside the West Wing — and to fire anyone who had been talking to the press, according to one person familiar with the meetings. He would cut off former RNC staffers, telling them, “I know you’ve been serving two masters in this place” — meaning the president and Priebus, whom Scaramucci believed had been undermining the administration.

“I really believe he was on track to fire everybody,” said the person familiar with the meetings. “Sarah would try and keep the meeting on track, and he would interrupt to talk about leaks and firing everybody.”

Even though he wasn’t originally supposed to start his new post until August, Scaramucci began chiming in right away with communications strategy ideas — which were sometimes overruled.

For instance, Scaramucci suggested having senior adviser Jared Kushner address reporters in the White House briefing room, from behind the lectern, following his closed-door testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on his contacts with Russian officials last year.

Sanders, however, suggested the optics of Scaramucci’s suggestion would “elevate it too much,” according to the source. Scaramucci ultimately deferred on the decision to Sanders, and Kushner delivered his statement on the driveway outside the White House. Sanders did not respond to a request for comment about the incident.

At first, Trump seemed to appreciate the bluster and braggadocio.

Scaramucci had a smooth and friendly on-camera appearance in the White House briefing room on July 21, the day his new position was announced. Spicer’s tenure had been marked by combative exchanges with reporters, and the briefings were largely moved off camera until Scaramucci took over. He ended his first tete-a-tete with the White House press corps by blowing them a kiss.

Trump “really liked” his first appearance, one person who spoke to Trump said. Scaramucci would spend much of his early days talking to Trump about personnel and policy issues.

Last week, the president attended a dinner with Scaramucci where Priebus was fiercely criticized. Trump mused with Scaramucci about the then-chief-of-staff’s shortcomings and told others he wanted Priebus and Bannon out of the White House. Bannon continued to simmer in his frustrations.

But the strange episode that unfolded last Wednesday — when Scaramucci appeared to threaten Priebus with an FBI investigation for leaking his financial disclosure, which Priebus didn’t do, set his downfall in motion. In profane comments to The New Yorker, published Thursday, Scaramucci accused Priebus of being paranoid and Bannon of twisting himself in contortions to stroke his own ego.

At first, Trump didn’t show anger about the comments, telling others privately that he agreed with some of Scaramucci’s sentiments. Priebus resigned.

The comments mortified Kelly, who demanded control over the West Wing. And Trump, soaking in several days of negative news coverage about his administration in turmoil, began to realize the comments were a bigger deal than he’d initially believed. One administration official said Trump was also told by a number of friends and outside advisers that Scaramucci was going to become a bigger problem.

The comments upset Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Kushner, both of whom had wanted Spicer to stay with the administration in a different role, according to a person familiar with the couple’s thinking. “They wanted Scaramucci to come on so Priebus would leave,” one person with direct knowledge of their thinking said. “He did what he had to do, which was take out Reince.”

Another White House official said: “They’re supportive of Kelly and going to follow his lead.”

By late in the weekend, Scaramucci knew his job could be in jeopardy. One person who spoke to Scaramucci before he showed up to work Monday said he was concerned about his job security but continued to think The New Yorker comments might blow over and his job might be saved, this person said. He was planning to announce communications hires soon.

Scaramucci did not respond to repeated phone calls and text messages seeking comment.

After being told he would be let go, Scaramucci seemed shaken up but stayed on the White House grounds until early afternoon, said one official. Senior staff were informed at 1:45 p.m., by Kelly, the official said. Scaramucci was not in the room for that meeting.

It’s not clear whether Scaramucci will remain in the administration. In June, he was appointed to a position with the Export-Import Bank, which he left upon assuming his White House role, and may return there, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

In the wake of Scaramucci’s dismissal, Spicer was seen in the West Wing looking “happy,” said one person who saw him. Kelly and other senior aides joined Trump in the East Room for a Medal of Honor ceremony as the news broke, and was described in pool reports “smiling and appears in good spirits.”

“Great day at the White House!” Trump tweeted late Monday.

Lorraine Woellert contributed to this report.

http://www.politico.com

Kelly’s military approach to the media

 John Kelly is pictured.

“Listen, I respect them enormously,” John Kelly once told his transition “Sherpa,” Blain Rethmeier about his feelings towards the press, Rethmeier recalled in an interview. | Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo

The new chief of staff respects the press but will defer to his superior, Donald Trump.

When it comes to the media, new White House chief of staff John Kelly is a military man at heart, according to those who know him and have dealt with him in the past.

Operating out of the Pentagon, the former Marine Corps general and head of the U.S. Southern Command learned to respect members of the press but felt burned when they didn’t cover the news of what was under his command — including Guantanamo Bay — in what he considered a fair way.

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His new challenge, some of those people say, is that the political writers in the White House are a different breed than their Pentagon counterparts, who tend to have deep groundings in defense policy. And Kelly’s value system may be strained in his new job — both by the press corps and the boss he will serve.

To some extent, his brief tenure as Homeland Security secretary was a period of adjustment to dealing with a more politically oriented media, as he was on the front line defending some of President Donald Trump’s more controversial moves like the travel ban and crackdown on illegal immigration.

“In his time at DHS, he’s been a bit frustrated with the press coverage in some aspects but he doesn’t think there should be less of it,” explained David Lapan, his DHS spokesperson who has worked with Kelly for more than 10 years. “His concern was making sure it was accurate.”

Kelly’s preference for straight shooting was reflected in his first major decision as chief of staff, pushing out President Donald Trump’s newly minted communications director Anthony Scaramucci. The Mooch, as he was nicknamed, was widely viewed as the kind of fast-talking, political-oriented communicator that Kelly distrusts. In his experience with the Marines, Kelly came from a culture where if “we just tell the truth, that’s enough,” Lapan said.

To the extent that he’s able, Kelly will try to develop more of a transactional, two-way approach to media relations, according to those who’ve dealt with him over the years. He’ll respect them, if they respect him.

“Listen, I respect them enormously,” Kelly once told his transition “Sherpa,” Blain Rethmeier, Rethmeier recalled in an interview.

“I would characterize [Kelly’s feelings] as a deep respect for the media and understanding there is an important job for them to do, and in order for them to do it, it takes that trust,” Rethmeier said.

While all of his former colleagues were sure about Kelly’s personal respect for the press, they weren’t as sure about how he would handle a president who routinely calls outlets “fake news,” has trafficked in conspiracy theories, tweets out videos of himself literally beating up the logo of a news organization, and openly mused about opening up libel laws.

Despite his appreciation of the role of the media, Kelly is, at heart, a military man who respects the chain of command, and thus Trump’s role as commander in chief, those who know him say.

Should Kelly be presented with a situation where the president wishes to ban an outlet from the White House, Kelly would likely carry out the president’s directive, Lapan said.

“I think he would push back against banning a reporter from the briefing room, but he also recognizes that ultimately the president is the decision maker and there is a time to have internal discussions and disagreements,” Lapan said. “But at the end of the day … Gen. Kelly is one to carry out those orders and directions, but he certainly will have a say.”

Before taking his DHS post, Kelly worked with two secretaries of defense, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, who were known for being open with the press. It was from them, both reporters and those who worked alongside him say, that Kelly developed his communication strategies.

“Gates and Panetta were heavily influential in how he thinks about the media,” said Washington Post reporter Greg Jaffe, who has covered Kelly extensively. “It made him understand the importance of doing [media] and how to be strategic about it.”

Gates and Panetta valued their relationships with individual reporters and saw them as crucial to advancing their agendas, a lesson Kelly has taken to heart, said Geoff Morrell, former Pentagon Press Secretary in the Obama administration.

“He’s had excellent role models in media engagement and seen firsthand the benefits of having a good working relationship with reporters. He knows that if you treat them as professionals and with respect that they will give you and your agenda a fairer shake,” Morrell said.

At the Pentagon, Kelly was known to have long off-the-record chats with reporters while traveling with the secretaries, and built personal relationships with reporters including ABC’s Martha Raddatz, the Wall Street Journal’s Julian Barnes and The New York Times’ Thom Shanker, to the point where they would call Kelly directly even after he became secretary of Homeland Security, said Lapan.

Unlike the Pentagon, White House or State Department, the Department of Homeland Security does not have a dedicated press corps. The agency is covered by a hodgepodge of reporters whose beats involve defense, immigration and transportation. But Kelly did try to improve relations, directing his staff to engage more with the press and instituting a new weekly press briefings, which reporters said they found helpful.

But Kelly ultimately sees the relationship with the media as a two-way street. He tries to be transparent and forthcoming those who have worked with him said, but he gets angry if he feels burned, colleagues say.

One place where he felt the coverage to be unfair was the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, which he oversaw as head of the U.S. Southern Command, his former colleagues say. Kelly felt he gave journalists access to the facility and wanted to show that the facility was being run in accordance with the law. But coverage trended toward the negative.

“Where the press got sideways with him is he would trust them, give them access, and then be burned by it,” Rethmeier said.

One thing Kelly has little patience for is leaks — but mainly of the classified nature.

“I believe when you leak the kind of information that seems to be routinely leaked – high, high level of classification… I think it’s darn close to treason,” Kelly told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in May.

But Lapan put it this way: “When he’s talking about treason he’s talking about those types of leaks, not the personal score settling, the rumors, those types of leaks. I’d also say as someone who has operated in and around Washington for a long time he understands that’s just the nature and there will always be leaks. You’re not going to stop leaks but you should focus your attention on the ones that are serious and violate the law.”

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Trump dictated statement for son on Russia meeting: report

President Trump reportedly dictated a misleading statement about his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer that was ultimately issued to The New York Times by Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHow Polish populism explains Trump and the rebirth of nationalism Lewandowski: Priebus ‘ultimately responsible’ for White House leaks Ex-Cruz aide: Now Bannon is establishment voice in Trump White House MORE Jr., The Washington Post reported Monday evening. 

Trump dictated the statement on July 8, while he was en route back to the United States from the Group of 20 summit in Germany, to director of strategic communications Hope Hicks, the Post said. 

The statement about a meeting Trump Jr. had with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential race emphasized that it was “not a campaign issue at the time.” Instead, it said the topic had been primarily Russian adoption policy.

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But a few days later, news broke that Trump Jr. arranged the meeting believing he would obtain harmful information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonLawsuit claims Trump involvement in retracted Fox story on Seth Rich North Korea targeted emails of Clinton advisers: report GOP rep on Trump dictating Russia meeting statement: Best to have ‘maximum amount of transparency’ MORE. The New York Times first disclosed details of the meeting that took place in July 2016 and that also included Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

According to the report, Ivanka Trump and Kushner, her husband, worked with advisers during breaks at the G-20 summit to craft a response to questions from the Times. Hicks and another aide pushed transparency, the Post said.

But the president reportedly overruled the consensus his advisers had reached on how to respond to inquires about the meeting. 

Trump Jr. did not respond to the Post’s requests for comment Monday, while his attorney said he and his client “were fully prepared and absolutely prepared to make a fulsome statement” about the details surrounding the meeting.

His lawyer also said he has “no evidence to support” the “theory” that Trump was involved in writing the statement.

The president’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, refused to speak about details regarding Trump’s involvement with the statement.

“Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent,” Sekulow said in his statement to the Post.

http://thehill.com

Republicans ignore Trump’s Obamacare taunts

Senate Republicans have no plans to revive their party-line attempts to repeal Obamacare this summer, despite President Donald Trump’s increasing frustration over the chamber’s failed attempts last week to gut the law.

“Until somebody shows us a way to get that elusive 50th vote, I think it’s over,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican. “Maybe lightning will strike and something will come together but I’m not holding my breath.”

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Trump over the weekend taunted his own party’s slim majority, saying on Twitter they’d look like “fools” and “total quitters” if they abandon the health care push. But GOP senators appear unmoved.

For one, they’re down one vote in the short-term, with Sen. John McCain being treated for cancer in Arizona.

But as the collapse of the repeal effort in the Senate last week showed, even with McCain the GOP majority is so narrow that it may never be possible to pass major, partisan health care reform through the chamber. That increasingly appears to be the case despite White House efforts to promote a bill by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that would send federal health care funding to the states in the form of block grants.

Privately, Republican aides said there was essentially no chance that McConnell will take another shot at repealing Obamacare soon. On Monday, there was discussion among Senate staffers of a “hard pivot to tax reform,” one Senate aide said.

Publicly, senators were only slightly more charitable to the president’s demand that the GOP put everything on hold until it passes a health care law.

“Do I think we should stay on health care until we get it done? I think it’s time to move on to something else. Come back to health care when we’ve had more time to get beyond the moment we’re in and see if we can’t put some wins on the board,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership. “Tax reform, infrastructure are the kinds of things we ought to be looking at.”

Pressed to respond to Trump’s Twitter tirade against the Senate GOP, Blunt said: “What do you want me to say about that? Obviously we didn’t give up and we didn’t quit. We can come back to this at another time and I’m sure we will.”

The past few weeks has been exceedingly painful for Republican senators. After his cancer diagnosis, McCain flew back to provide a critical vote for opening debate on Obamacare repeal — only to crush the GOP’s hopes days later of passing even a stripped-down bill to undo the law’s individual mandate.

Trump scolded Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in a private phone call for her opposition to opening debate on repeal. And House members bashed the Senate as an ineffectual body that can’t summon the will to move forward.

A number of GOP senators were caught in a vice between their past promises to repeal Obamacare and vows to protect Medicaid recipients and other constituents from harm. The idea of taking another heart-stopping vote with little chance of success is not high on senators’ priority lists.

“I don’t think that in the next two weeks that’s what we ought to do. I think we’re going to have some bipartisan meetings and hearings,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who’s been attacked by liberals for supporting some of McConnell’s health care proposals. “I don’t think there’s the appetite to have a vote in the next two weeks.”

In floor remarks Monday, McConnell said nothing about Obamacare. After McCain killed the “skinny” repeal plan last week with his decisive “no” vote, McConnell declared that it’s “time to move on” from the GOP’s party-line attempts to attack the seven-year old law.

His office had no new comment on the repeal effort Monday.

Some rank-and-file Republicans want to try and keep up the fight even as more senior members echoed McConnell’s “move on” comments. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said the party must pursue “all avenues” to reform, including reconciliation.

“We have to continue working on it because come January 1, we’re going to see a huge increase in premiums,” Rounds said.

In theory, McConnell could bring up the budget reconciliation bill to repeal Obamacare anytime, though without McCain the GOP lacks the votes to reopen debate on the matter. And everything the GOP tried last week failed to garner the required 50 votes: Repealing the law, replacing it and the “skinny” bill sold to Republicans as a starting point for negotiations with the House.

“We’re just thinking about everything right now … I don’t have any announcement for you,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said of the Senate’s agenda. “I wouldn’t leap to any conclusions. Give us a chance to talk about and figure out what’s next. What we do know is next is nominations.”

Indeed, for the next two weeks the chamber is expected to focus on confirming Trump’s nominees, including a new circuit court judge from Alabama, a new National Labor Relations Board member and probably a vote on FBI director nominee Chris Wray. The Senate is currently expected to leave for recess at the end of next week.

In the meantime, there are major decisions pending about health care. Trump is threatening to cut off health insurance subsidies for low-income people, which could spur Congress to act — though Trump could veto any bill providing funding for that assistance. Republicans also have to decide whether to abandon the budget reconciliation vehicle they’d been using to try to repeal Obamacare — a tool that allows them to skirt Democratic filibusters.

The White House is pushing the bill from Graham and Cassidy, and some lawmakers are talking about a bipartisan bill to stabilize insurance markets. But those efforts are truly in their infancy: The Graham-Cassidy bill does not have a Congressional Budget Office score or the support of 50 senators. And bipartisan talks are just beginning in the wake of last week’s failure to repeal the law.

“It’s a constant battle. Health care is one of the most difficult things,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). “It has to come back before the end of the year. We have to face it.”

Hatch paused when asked if he’s referring to another party-line repeal effort.

“Oh, I hope it’ll be bipartisan,” he said.

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