From the moment his hiring as communications director was announced, Anthony Scaramucci seemed like a high-risk choice for a White House already struggling with messaging — but one with a potentially high reward.
A well-groomed and carefully dressed hedge-fund type who had wanted to be an actor and who, upon meeting almost anyone, would tell them what movie star they resembled, Scaramucci lacked traditional political or even PR experience. He talked casually and — as the world now knows — “colorfully.” He didn’t quite grasp the meaning of rudimentary journalistic terms that could protect a person dealing with the press in any circumstance, like off the record and background, often confusing the two. Steve Bannon — the president’s chief strategist, who is defined in many ways by his dislike and distrust of the Establishment — had cautioned against Scaramucci’s hiring. What he suggested instead was that they find a professional, someone who had displayed an ability to do the job in a competent but unremarkable way.
But the counterargument was compelling: How much worse could things get? The so-called professionals who’d been running the show previously weren’t exactly nailing it. And besides, Scaramucci — or Mooch, as he’s known — was well liked by not only Donald Trump, but by operatives and reporters, too. He was fun and he had heart, and maybe a character foreign to this swamp was precisely what the president needed. Promising that much had gotten Trump elected, after all.
In the end, this new era would last just eleven days, including two weekends — one of which he spent not in Washington but on Long Island caring for his mother, who has leukemia, and visiting his newborn son. Scaramucci was fired around 9:30 a.m. Monday morning, 15 days before he was scheduled to officially begin the job. He departed before he had time to staff the comms shop with his own employees, and before Sean Spicer, the press secretary who resigned to protest his hiring, had stopped showing up to work. “Anthony represents a truly fresh start for the president in terms of that, and uh, it’s different people and different times,” Spicer told me soon after he resigned. “You know, who knows, if he’d been the guy first out of the gate, who knows? I was the first guy out of the gate.”
The first signs that the “fresh start” would end in calamity were apparent by the afternoon of Wednesday, July 26.
If this West Wing were a cartoon, Mooch would’ve had little birds flying around his head. As his new colleagues walked purposefully about in upper press, the area where communications officials keep their offices and where reporters are permitted to linger and chat with them, he looked startled and overwhelmed. In addition to coming into a White House in distress and plagued by general disorganization and a president prone to derailing talking points with tweets about morning-show hosts’ plastic surgery, his own hiring was a major story. Anywhere Scaramucci turned, there was someone who needed to talk to him about something — his new White House colleagues, reporters, TV bookers, and so on. Still, he was his upbeat self as he tried to find his footing. Scaramucci smiled and joked as he explained to a colleague that he had to use the restroom but he couldn’t, since he needed to go take a drug test, a requirement of all Executive employees since 1988. There was also the issue of his new White House phone, which he complained to an IT guy was essentially useless, since his contacts hadn’t transferred over, meaning he didn’t know who the hell was trying to text and call him. And then there were his evening plans, which had just been overtaken by the president, who requested his presence at dinner.
Just a few hours later, Scaramucci would call The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza to rant about all sorts of things, including Bannon, who he said was the kind of guy to “suck” his “own cock,” and Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, whom he branded a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic.” He said he planned to sic the FBI on Priebus for what he suspected was his crime of leaking damaging information about him to the press, including a financial document that was, in fact, a matter of public record. In any other White House, the incident would have led to Scaramucci’s immediate dismissal. But this isn’t any White House, and many speculated the episode would actually help him with the boss. After the quotes were published, on Thursday afternoon, it seemed that Mooch was safe. Within the White House, the story was treated with a combination of bafflement and amusement. The president, hardly known for his own decorum, gave no indication that he even cared. By Friday, the only person to suffer any consequences was Priebus, whom The Wall Street Journal reported had been judged by Trump for not firing back at Scaramucci with his own insults. From the tarmac aboard Air Force One, he announced on Twitter that Priebus was gone and in his place would be the Homeland Security secretary, John Kelly.
Scaramucci told me then that he planned to return to the White House on Monday morning. His family had become the subject of tabloid coverage after it was reported, by the New York Post, that his wife had filed for divorce earlier in July while she was eight months pregnant. Paparazzi photographed them at their home. He tweeted in frustration, pleading with the press to, “leave civilians out of this,” and warning that, “soon we will learn who in the media has class and who doesn’t.” But beyond the tabloid frenzy, the weekend was quiet. According to CNN, he began his first day back in Washington under the impression that all was relatively fine.
But with Kelly’s appointment, things had shifted. A source close to the White House told me that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner only supported Scaramucci in the first place because they had wanted to get rid of Priebus — long Scaramucci’s nemesis, since he’d prevented him from joining the administration immediately after the inauguration. Once Scaramucci had done his job by ousting Priebus, this source said, Ivanka and Jared had no reason to protect him — especially after the New Yorker story. Further, they wanted the new chief of staff to have a chance to do the job the right way, which meant being able to choose his own staff.
Secondarily, the source said, “don’t fuck with Steve.”
Kelly reportedly delivered the news to Scaramucci in person. When word got out to the press, Scaramucci released a statement, saying he wanted the White House to have a “clean slate.”
When it comes to President Trump, even people who are fired rarely leave his orbit for good. His longtime adviser Sam Nunberg was fired and rehired, then fired again and rehired, and finally fired again in August 2015 — and still, he remains in close proximity to this White House. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was fired in June of 2016, has been seen visiting the White House multiple times, and he even flew aboard Air Force One with the president last week. He told me the other day at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. that he’d seriously consider any position the president wanted to hire him for. Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman who was replaced by Bannon and Kellyanne Conway in August 2016, continued to advise Trump through at least part of the transition —and who’s to say he’s not still doing so?
The Mooch may be gone for now, but history suggests he’ll be back.