White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci on Thursday escalated his tensions with chief of staff Reince Priebus, recalling the biblical story of Cain and Abel in reference to their relationship and saying it’s up to Priebus to prove that he’s not a leaker.
“If you want to talk about the chief of staff, we have had odds. We have had differences. 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,” Scaramucci said Thursday on CNN’s “New Day,” referencing the Book of Genesis story in which Cain kills his brother Abel. “I don’t know if this is reparable or not, that will be up to the president.”
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“If Reince wants to explain that he’s not a leaker, let him do that,” he continued. “But let me tell you about myself. I’m a straight shooter and I’ll go right to the heart of the matter.”
Kellyanne Conway, another top adviser to President Donald Trump, also appeared to pile on. When asked on Fox whether Priebus is “the big leaker,” she responded, “I’m not aware of the latter. I will just tell you that leakers are easier to figure out than they may think. This West Wing is a very small place.”
Since Scaramucci was named to the post last Friday – triggering the resignation of press secretary Sean Spicer – he has been on a mission to root out leakers, an issue that has frustrated Trump since he won the presidency last November.
Scaramucci has so far focused much of his leaks hunt on the West Wing, threatening on Tuesday to “fire everybody” in the communications shop if the embarrassing anonymously sourced stories don’t stop. And it appears he’s now zeroing in on Priebus, who had repeatedly tried to keep Scaramucci, a Wall Street financier, out of the White House.
On Wednesday night, Scaramucci seemed to suggest in a post to Twitter that it had been the chief of staff who released his financial disclosure form to the press. Despite the fact that the form is available to the public upon request, Scaramucci characterized its publication as a leak and wrote that “in light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept #swamp @Reince45.”
Many interpreted the inclusion of Priebus’s Twitter handle as an indication that Scaramucci blamed Priebus, a conclusion that the communications director disputed by deleting the initial tweet and replacing it with one explaining that he had only meant to suggest that all top-level White House staffers are involved in the effort to curb leaks.
During his CNN interview on Thursday, Scaramucci said he’s interviewed most of the assistants to the president and members of the communications team as he tries to identify the leakers.
“And 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.”
Scaramucci’s cryptic comments are the latest indication of the growing pressure on Priebus, who has found himself with an ever-shrinking circle of White House allies. West Wing staffers close to Priebus including former deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, Spicer and former deputy press secretary Michael Short have all departed the White House, the latter two within the last week.
And while Priebus has said publicly that he supported bringing Scaramucci into the Trump administration, reports from multiple media outlets indicated that he was kept out of the loop on the decision and lobbied against it once he became aware. Spicer, too, opposed Scaramucci’s hiring and tendered his resignation once the move became official.
Asked during a news conference about the apparent tension between Scaramucci and Priebus, House Speaker Paul Ryan gave a full vote of confidence to the latter.
“I think Reince is doing a great job as chief of staff,” he said.
It’s unclear if Trump will make any decision soon on Priebus, who reportedly has been on the ropes for months. But both Scaramucci and Conway expressed intense frustration with the current state-of-play in the West Wing, especially when it comes to leaks.
“Now, there are leaks, and there are people using the press to shiv each other in the ribs,” Conway said.
Scaramucci also suggested that Trump had been poorly served by some in his West Wing, telling CNN that those working for the administration should stop seeking to rein in the president and instead seek to amplify his message across the country.
He said that in his business-world experience, “paranoia and backstabbing” is the result of “underconfidence plus insecurity,” and that he would seek to plug the leaks either by bolstering those doing the leaking such that they stop the practice or by removing the staffer altogether.
“There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president. That is not their job,” he said. “Their job is to inject this president into America so that he can explain his views properly and his policies so that we can transform America and drain the swamp and make the system fairer for the middle and lower income people.”