In an administration where the strange and outrageous can occur on any day ending in “y,’ newly minted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci set a bar yesterday that will be difficult to best. The vehicle was The New Yorker writer, Ryan Lizza. This is how it starts:
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 leaked it.”
We’ve seen some of this before. Scaramucci had barely been on the job for hours before he fired an alleged leaker though the guy’s biggest sin was probably that he was a Priebus loyalist.
[Let me interject a comment here about threatening to fire people as a motivational tool. I was an infantry platoon leader in the Berlin Brigade, which was fairly high profile assignment. My battalion commander was fond of this style. He once told me and my company commander to fix something f***ed up by a brain-dead private “or you’ll be new somewhere tomorrow.” His most famous motivational speech was bringing in three staff officers and telling them “if one of you three f***s up again, I’m firing all three of you.” Trust me, you can instill fear, you can destroy trust and collegiality, but you can’t motivate or, for long, manage an organization like that.]
From that complaint, the conversation got a lot more interesting.
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.
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.
“Reince is a f***ing paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” Scaramucci said. He channelled Priebus as he spoke: “ ‘Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the f***ing thing and see if I can c***-block these people the way I c***-blocked Scaramucci for six months.’ ” (Priebus did not respond to a request for comment.)
I would have given anything to capture on video Priebus when Lizza called and asked for comment. But we’ve learned here, from Mr. No-Leaks, himself, that the White House is going to hire former FoxNews co-president, Bill Shine.
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.
Financial disclosures become public records. Now remind me again who is the paranoid in this story?
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 c***,” 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.)
I nearly wet myself imagining Bannon responding to that. “Tell me, Mr. Bannon, can you actually… Are there images available?”
As someone on Twitter said, Scaramucci is the character you bring in on season three of a failing sit-com to try to give it a new lease on life.
I’m assuming part of this is the schtick that a certain class of Long Islanders uses to try to convince other people they are tough and serious people. It is an affectation that doesn’t travel very well. And when it appears in the press. The fact that Scaramucci made this call at all indicates that temperamentally he’s not a good pick for communications director unless “communications” now means “hurling invective and insults at colleagues in public.” This isn’t going to get Scaramucci respect from professionals, it isn’t going to make him seem like anything more than a caricature, and for all his bloviating about serving the president, he did Trump a grave disservice in this tirade.
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