President Donald Trump has not only blessed efforts by his new communications director Anthony Scaramucci to wage a battle against chief of staff Reince Priebus, he’s actively egging on the very public and painful feud.
White House officials and outside allies say the president is revelling in Scaramucci’s campaign against Priebus—undertaken through cable news appearances and a billow of tweets, some of which were subsequently deleted—and is thrilled to see a top staffer placing a publicly bombastic emphasis on White House leaks to the press, which consistently infuriate the president.
“The president specifically gave [Scaramucci] the green light to go after Reince”—on-air if necessary—one White House adviser told The Daily Beast, citing conversations with President Trump. Scaramucci himself claimed that he had secured Trump’s “blessing” for his words and actions in a phone call with the president prior to a Thursday morning CNN interview.
The “president is not concerned with Reince’s feelings,” the source added. However, Trump has no interest in personally firing Priebus at this time, preferring to delegate abuse of his own chief of staff—who Trump has been frustrated with for months—to his new comms czar nicknamed “The Mooch.”
Some leaks that Scaramucci has raged against aren’t actually leaks at all. But Trump isn’t concerned with such minor details. More important in his mind, sources say, is Scaramucci’s take-no-prisoners approach to what they both see as a lack of internal administration loyalty to the president.
“There are people inside the administration who think it is their job to save America from this president,” Scaramucci told CNN.
In the same interview, he hinted at a major escalation of his efforts against Priebus. Asked about his reported request that the Justice Department investigate the “leak” of his publicly available financial disclosure information, Scaramucci told CNN that he had been speaking with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores confirmed in an email to The Daily Beast that Sessions and Scaramucci spoke on Thursday morning, but said she did not know what their conversation entailed. She denied that Scaramucci’s comments on CNN indicated a discussion of a potential leak investigation into Priebus or any other White House staffer.
Neither Scaramucci nor White House press secretary Sarah Sanders responded to multiple requests to comment on the record for this story. Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to discuss the Mooch-Reince feud.
During the White House press briefing, Sanders explained the White House was full of people with “different perspectives, because the president hires the very best people.”
“Unlike previous administrations, this isn’t group think,” she said. “We all come and have a chance to voice those ideas, voice those perspectives and have a lot of healthy competition, and with that competition, you usually get the best results.”
“The president likes that type of competition and encourages it,” she said.
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From the outside, the Scaramucci-Priebus feud looks like something you’d see on the type of reality television that made Trump a world-famous media personality—a fact that even some White House officials acknowledge. “Welcome to The Apprentice, season 1600,” one senior official quipped.
Trump’s newly-minted communications director has chosen odd examples to illustrate the severity of the White House’s leak problem. He has condemned the release of his publicly available financial disclosures and news of a communications department staff shakeup that he himself shared with the press. But the president is thrilled with Scaramucci’s performance, multiple sources say, even if some of the president’s closest allies aren’t.
“I don’t think it helps build a winning team to spend a lot of time shooting at yourself,” former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a top outside Trump adviser, told The Daily Beast on Thursday afternoon. “My hope was that [Anthony] would focus on [taking on] Trump’s opponents not Trump’s staff.”
When asked about what he thought of Scaramucci suggesting Priebus is one of the big leakers in the administration, Gingrich simply said that it was “not helpful.”
Far from being upset at an internal conflict spilling into public eye, according to sources in and outside the White House, Trump has encouraged Scaramucci to play rough with his chief of staff.
On Wednesday evening, the resulting White House war of words spilled further into public view. In a late-night tweet, Scaramucci 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.”
Scaramucci also tagged Priebus’s handle [email protected] at the end of his tweet, leading many to interpret that as a direct accusation against his West Wing colleague.
The “leak” the comms director was complaining about wasn’t a leak—it was reporting on a public document legally obtained and then published Wednesday by Politico. Scaramucci filed the disclosure at issue after securing a post at the US Export-Import Bank last month. Covered federal appointees are required to file financial disclosure reports within 30 days of assuming their posts.
Scaramucci subsequently deleted his tweet, later posting that observers were “Wrong!” to conclude he was targeting Priebus, and that Reince was actually helping to end “illegal leaks” from the administration. However, by Thursday morning, Scaramucci was live on CNN suggesting that Priebus himself should answer for leaking allegations.
“If Reince wants to explain he’s not a leaker, let him do that,” Scaramucci said after explaining that he was not actually accusing his White House colleague of leaking anything. He and Reince are like “brothers,” Scaramucci said, before adding an ominous caveat: “Some brothers are like Cain and Abel. Other brothers can fight with each other and get along. I don’t know if this is repairable or not. That will be up to the President.”
Trump “was watching [the CNN interview] and loved it,” another senior White House official told The Daily Beast. Scaramucci, the official said, was “doing exactly what [the president] brought him in to do.”
The official also noted that Trump would also much rather have public attention on White House melodrama than on other news plaguing the administration and the Republican Party, such as the Obamacare-repeal debacle in the Senate and Russia-related stories.
Despite public insistence from the White House to the contrary, there is no indication that Priebus and Scaramucci like each other as friends or aren’t working against each other as colleagues. Two sources who have known Scaramucci for years say that he has privately called Priebus “Reince Penis” (a taunt also deployed by political operative and longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone), among other crude monikers.
The tiff between the two senior aides has left some of their colleagues rolling their eyes at the TV screens. “More child’s play, more sandbox [fighting],” another Trump adviser lamented.
While Scaramucci is training his heavy fire on Priebus this week, he has not yet aggressively gone after any other senior staffers who fought to keep him out of the White House, such as chief strategist Steve Bannon. Bannon also holds considerably more currency in Trump-world now than Priebus does. The chief strategist, who was among Trump’s top advisers who saw Scaramucci as a complete amateur and a hanger-on, is keeping occupied with policy work and defending attorney general Jeff Sessions from Trump’s wrath—while the drama surrounding him and the rest of the president’s inner circle mounts.
Priebus’s allies and friends in the administration say that they do not expect him to quit the administration over Trump siccing Scaramucci on him, at least not yet. Though the sidelined chief of staff is annoyed with the recent “pot shots” taken at him, one Priebus ally said, he wants to remain involved in Republican politics, and knows that abruptly ditching the White House right now might alienate major GOP powerbrokers.
There’s also the question of whether he is actually leaking anything—and whether the colleague intimating that he is has the credibility to say so.
For all of Scaramucci’s apparent rage at White House leakers, he himself earned a reputation for unauthorized disclosures to the press during his work for the presidential campaigns of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
However, as is the case with all good palace intrigue dramas, Scaramucci’s ascent comes with heavy doses of irony.
As he takes over the White House communications shop, Scaramucci has maintained an account on the encrypted messaging service Signal—a tool frequently used by Trump administration leakers, and one that former White House press secretary Sean Spicer explicitly instructed his staff not to use.