Every day brings some fresh new absurdity in the age of Trump, and today is no exception. The drama this morning revolves around Anthony Scaramucci, his new communications director—a flashier, smoother, richer, more kiss-assy version of Sean Spicer, and a man who has completely molded himself into his boss’ image, from the hyperbolic speech patterns to the bad half-jokes to the endless protestations of his own lofty intentions.
But the Mooch is now under the spotlight for reasons he can’t control, and just like Trump, he does not do well when backed into a corner—despite the fact that he clearly loves every kind of attention. Starting last night, here’s a primer on the semi-complicated, fully bizarre series of events that have thrust Scaramucci (further) into the public eye.
broke a story last night about Scaramucci’s potential conflicts of interest relating to his ownership stake in SkyBridge Capital, an investment firm he founded in 2005—information gleaned from a publicly available financial disclosure form he filled out upon taking his job at the White House. (Again, please note the word “public” in that formulation, which appears at the top of the form itself. This was not some piece of confidential information leaked by a nefarious agent—the only remarkable thing is that it took this long to come out in the first place.)
The incoming White House communications director earned $4.9 million from his ownership stake in SkyBridge in addition to more than $5 million in salary between Jan. 1, 2016, and the end of June, when he joined the Export-Import Bank, according to a financial disclosure filed with the Office of Government Ethics…
The investment firm, which Scaramucci founded in 2005, is in the process of being sold to RON Transatlantic and Chinese conglomerate HNA Group. The sale, set in motion in January when Scaramucci was shedding his holdings in anticipation of landing an administration job, has drawn the scrutiny of regulators and is taking longer than expected to close.
It’s unclear what will come of this, if anything, but rather than retreat into the shadows, Scaramucci decided to go on the offensive against an old rival.
It’s no secret that Sean Spicer resigned in part because he disagreed so strongly with the elevation of Scaramucci to the post White House Communications Director, but Reince Priebus was no fan either, and actually played a part in delaying his ascent to Trump’s side. Per the Times:
During the transition, Mr. Trump had planned to appoint Mr. Scaramucci, 53, a Harvard Law School graduate, as the director of his office of public liaison, but the offer was revoked at the request of Mr. Priebus, who had concerns about Mr. Scaramucci’s overseas investments. An aide to Mr. Priebus said he had not blocked it, but merely tried to slow it down…
Mr. Priebus and Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, both strongly opposed the appointment of Mr. Scaramucci — in large part because he enjoys an easy banter and direct line to Mr. Trump, potentially threatening their positions, four people briefed on the discussions said.
Publicly, Scaramucci said he and Priebus were friends, and also like “brothers,” albeit brothers who “rough each other up.” But today, it’s clear that Scaramucci saw Priebus’ invisible hand in the “leak” of his financial disclosure (a leak which was not a true leak, since it was publicly available, and was more like pointing a certain journalist in the right direction), and sent out the following tweet last night:
The tweet was later deleted, but the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, who is deeply connected within the White House, made Scaramucci’s intentions crystal clear after some follow-up reporting:
Lizza will be posting a story about the “surreal” events of the last 12 hours later today. Meanwhile, hilariously, Scaramucci clarified his quote about he and Priebus being like “brothers” earlier this morning: “Some brothers are like Cain and Abel.”
Scaramucci denied that he wanted the FBI to investigate Priebus, saying that his deleted tweet was merely meant to put leakers on notice that the administration would fight back. Last night, he ate dinner with a group that included Trump, his wife Melania, Sean Hannity, and former Fox News executive Bill Shine—a “scoop” that was once again broken by Lizza.
Whatever was discussed clearly paved the way for this morning's media offensive. Following a phone call with Trump—which further solidifies the idea that everything that Scaramucci did next was sanctioned by the president—the communications director went on CNN in one of the most bizarre media appearances yet.
In the interview below, conducted this morning on CNN's New Day, Chris Cuomo spends 30 minutes trying to get a word in edgewise while Scaramucci repeatedly and forcefully says nothing. Instead, he filibusters with one goal in mind: Complimenting Trump, who was most likely watching live. If you spend any time with this video, do it to witness a complete train wreck, and not because you want to hear anything substantive on either the leaks or the Mooch's financial conflicts of interest:
If you want a quicker version, check out this short clip, in which Scaramucci actually utters the following sentences: “As you know from the Italian expression, the fish stinks from the head down. But I can tell you two fish that don't stink, okay? And that's me and the president.”
Okay, this is not critical information, but sometimes comic relief is necessary:
Back to our regularly scheduled programming…
Clearly, along with trying to plug up the leakiest White House in known memory, Scaramucci is trying to severely curtail or totally eliminate Reince Priebus' influence with Trump. By extension, this also puts him at war with Steve Bannon. And he's doing it by mimicking his boss and appealing to both his ego and sense of melodrama. Chris Arande nailed it:
As Paste’s Jacob Weindling put it, “this is essentially a reality show coup.” And you can bet there will be more to come.