WASHINGTON — The internal rivalries of the White House spilled out into public view Thursday morning as President Donald Trump’s new communications director publicly called out the chief of staff, calling him a “paranoid schizophrenic” leaker and vowing to get him fired.
Anthony Scaramucci, who was installed as White House communications director last week over the objections of the chief of staff, Reince Priebus, called into CNN in the morning to say that the two men were at odds and to dare Priebus to deny being a leaker. By the evening, The New Yorker had posted an interview quoting Scaramucci using vulgar language to describe Priebus.
“Reince Priebus — if you want to leak something — he’ll be asked to resign very shortly,” Scaramucci told The New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza in a vulgarity-laced telephone call Wednesday night. Scaramucci suggested that he believed that Priebus was leaking information to damage him.
“Reince is a f***ing paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” he said.
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In the same telephone call, Scaramucci disparaged Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, who also warned against hiring him as communications director.
“I’m not Steve Bannon,” he said, adding: “I’m not trying to build my own brand off the f***king strength of the president. I’m here to serve the country.”
Scaramucci later released a statement but did not apologize. “I sometimes use colorful language,” he said on Twitter. “I will refrain in this arena but not give up the passionate fight for @RealDonaldTrump’s agenda.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the new White House press secretary, said she had nothing to add to the statement. Priebus and Bannon had no immediate comment.
The phone call underscored the depth of divisions within the West Wing, which have only widened with Scaramucci’s arrival. Not only did Priebus and Bannon oppose his appointment, but Sean Spicer resigned as press secretary in protest.
Scaramucci was angry about what he saw as leaks targeting him. Lizza had posted a message on Twitter on Wednesday night reporting that Trump and Scaramucci were having dinner at the White House with Sean Hannity, a Fox News host and a strong supporter of the president, and Bill Shine, a former Fox executive. Scaramucci called Lizza unsolicited to demand that he identify his source.
When Lizza would not, Scaramucci said, “OK, 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.”
“What I want to do is I want to f***ing kill all the leakers, and I want to get the president’s agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people,” Scaramucci told Lizza.
Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said in an unusual statement late Wednesday: “We have seen an astonishing increase in the number of leaks of classified national security information in recent months. We agree with Anthony that [this] staggering number of leaks are undermining the ability of our government to function and to protect this country.”
Flores added that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom the president has repeatedly attacked this week, “will aggressively pursue leak cases wherever they may lead.”
Scaramucci was also upset about a story on Politico reporting his financial disclosure form. In a Twitter post Wednesday night shortly after his conversation with Lizza, Scaramucci said the “leak” was “a felony” and that he would be contacting the FBI and the Justice Department to seek an investigation. He then included Priebus’ Twitter handle, which several officials in the White House interpreted as meaning that he suspected the chief of staff.
On Thursday morning, he telephoned into CNN and agreed that he was at loggerheads with Priebus, comparing their relationship to that of Cain and Abel, the biblical sons of Adam and Eve whose conflict led to Cain’s murdering Abel. He challenged Priebus to deny being a leaker.
“We have had odds. We have had differences,” Scaramucci said. “When I said we were brothers from the podium, that’s because we’re rough on each other. Some brothers are like Cain and Abel. Other brothers can fight with each other and get along. I don’t know if this is reparable or not. That will be up to the president.”
But the leak he was complaining about was no leak. Lorraine Woellert, Politico’s reporter on the story, explained that she simply requested the financial disclosure form through normal channels and was provided it by a government agency as required by federal law. Scaramucci deleted his Twitter message but posted a new one referring to a story by the news outlet Axios suggesting that he wanted Priebus investigated.
As the hosts and guests of CNN’s New Day discussed the matter Thursday morning, Scaramucci called in to address the question of why Priebus’ Twitter handle was tagged in the tweet.
“He’s the chief of staff,” he said. “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.”
The fact that journalists interpreted it as an accusation against Priebus suggested that he might be a leaker because the journalists know who gives them information, Scaramucci said.
“When I put out a tweet and I put Reince’s name in the tweet, they’re all making the assumption that it’s him because journalists know who the leakers are,” he said. “So if Reince wants to explain that he’s not a leaker, let him do that. Let me tell you something about myself. I am a straight shooter, and I’ll go right to the heart of the matter.”
The disclosure form, filed with the Export-Import Bank, where Scaramucci worked briefly before joining the White House, showed that he has assets worth as much as $85 million. He made $5 million in salary and another $4.9 million from his ownership stake in his investment firm SkyBridge Capital in the first six months of this year, according to the filing.
Under federal law, disclosure forms are publicly available, and agencies that receive them have 30 days to open them to the public. Scaramucci’s report says it was filed June 23, which meant that it had to be available for release by the bank by July 23, last Sunday.
Lizza, who is also a CNN contributor, was on the air Thursday when Scaramucci called in.
“Yeah, so, when I was speaking to you last night, Ryan, I said it was unpatriotic that you weren’t telling me who the leakers were. I was on a plane landing in New York. I have to go visit my mom. And so you may have caught it the wrong way,” Scaramucci said. “I was teasing you, and it was sarcastic. It was one Italian to another.”
Chris Cuomo, one of the hosts of CNN’s New Day, jumped in to reset the interview, let Scaramucci know that Lizza might not be able to hear him and tried to make it clear to viewers what Scaramucci was talking about.
Scaramucci then said he had just spent 15 minutes on the phone with the president, “who has given me his full support and his full blessing,” and announced that he had a statement to read.
It was unclear whether Scaramucci ever read the statement, but he did talk nonstop for quite a while. He first said that no matter what people think of Trump, “you have to love the institution of the presidency. You have to love the office, and you have to love our country.”
“What the president and I would like to tell everybody — we have a very, very good idea of who the leakers are, who the senior leakers are in the White House. We’ll get to that in a second,” Scaramucci said. “What I also want to say is that we are working together, the president and myself and other members of his team and law enforcement, to … out, if you will, the leakers in the entire country.”
Scaramucci said White House leaks are “small potatoes” compared with leaks related to sensitive information about Syria, North Korea and Iraq.
“Those are the types of leaks that are so treasonous that 150 years ago people would have actually been hung for those types of leaks,” Scaramucci said.
He said he understands that public information laws allow reporters to request copies of some government documents, including his financial disclosure form that Politico requested, but he kept complaining about leaks.
“The leaking won’t stop. I can’t have a couple of friends up from Fox & Friends and Sean Hannity, who’s one of my closest friends, [at] dinner with the president and his first lady without it being leaked in seven minutes,” Scaramucci said. “It’s absolutely, completely and totally reprehensible. And the, as you know, from the Italian expression: The fish stinks from the head down. Well, I can tell you two fish that don’t stink, OK? And that’s me and the president.”
Information for this article was contributed by Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times and by Jenna Johnson of The Washington Post.
A Section on 07/28/2017