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.