Priebus Hangs In After Scaramucci’s Epic Takedown Attempt

Updated on
  • Communications director calls chief of staff a ‘paranoiac’
  • Scaramucci sets new bar for White House turmoil in first week

Scaramucci Questions If Priebus Is Behind Leaks

Reince Priebus showed no sign of departing his job after an epic takedown attempt on Thursday by President Donald Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, who used interviews with CNN and the New Yorker magazine to accuse the White House chief of staff of leaking information about him.

Scaramucci called Priebus a “paranoid schizophrenic,” using a profane epithet, in the New Yorker interview, and then later promised to dial back his “colorful language.” But the remarks dramatically laid bare a visceral hatred between the two men and decimated Scaramucci’s reputation as a cool, smooth-talking spokesman for Trump not even a week into his new role.

Reince Priebus

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Scaramucci’s attacks on Priebus -- and equally profane gripes about chief strategist Steve Bannon -- set a new bar for tension at a White House where turmoil has become the norm. Another senior official, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is weathering a near-daily barrage of criticism from Trump himself. Sessions has said he won’t step down.

It was a day when Priebus should have been basking in a major victory for both the White House and his home state of Wisconsin, where officials outlined plans for iPhone supplier Foxconn Technology Group to build a manufacturing plant that could employ as many as 13,000 people. Instead, speculation was rampant that the chief of staff would depart or be fired.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined during a briefing to say that Trump retained confidence in Priebus, and later said, on Fox News, “He’s part of the team as of right now.”

Working Blue

Scaramucci, she said on Fox, “is a guy who sometimes uses colorful language and in many circles probably not appropriate language. Sometimes we have a lot of passion. We have to push forward and that’s exactly what we’re doing."

Priebus and Bannon didn’t respond to inquiries on Thursday.

Scaramucci’s profane remarks about his two White House rivals came after he called New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza on Wednesday to complain about a Lizza tweet that revealed Trump’s dinner that evening with the communications director, Fox News host Sean Hannity and a former Fox executive.

Scaramucci demanded to know Lizza’s source. Lizza refused to identify the person, he said.

“They’ll all be fired by me,” Scaramucci told him, without specifying that the remarks were off-the-record or not to be attributed to him, Lizza reported. “I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I’ll fire tomorrow. I’ll get to the person who leaked that to you. Reince Priebus -- if you want to leak something -- he’ll be asked to resign very shortly.”

Accusation of Jealousy

“Reince is a f------ paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” he added, suggesting Priebus had told Lizza about the dinner out of jealousy that he wasn’t included.

Later in the interview, he also attacked Bannon, who he said sought media attention at the president’s expense.

“I’m not Steve Bannon,” Scaramucci told Lizza, using a vulgar expression to indicate the senior adviser to the president was only interested in pleasing himself. “I’m not trying to build my own brand” off the president. “I’m here to serve the country.”

After the New Yorker article was published, Scaramucci responded with a Twitter posting. “I sometimes use colorful language. I will refrain in this arena but not give up the passionate fight for @realDonaldTrump’s agenda,” he said. Later Thursday night, again via Twitter, he said, "I made a mistake in trusting in a reporter. It won’t happen again."

Lizza said Priebus and Bannon both declined to comment about the remarks.

The outburst from Scaramucci, a Trump loyalist, creates a public face-off with Priebus, who holds a job that in any other White House would be one of the most powerful in Washington. In this White House, however, the president has created rival power centers -- Priebus, Bannon, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, and now Scaramucci -- that all appear to command equal influence and access to Trump.

CNN Interview

Earlier Thursday, Scaramucci undermined Priebus during a live, 30-minute interview on CNN, suggesting he was behind some leaks that have sparked turmoil in the White House and anger from Trump.

Read more: How Trump White House Is Escalating War on Leaks

“If Reince wants to explain that he’s not a leaker, let him do that,” Scaramucci told CNN during the phone interview. “I’m a straight shooter. I’ll go right to the heart of the matter.”

Anthony Scaramucci

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Scaramucci said there’s an establishment element inside the White House that’s trying “to save America from this president” and is interfering with the full changes Trump is trying to make to “transform” the nation and “drain the swamp.” 

He didn’t name who he thinks is among that element, but Priebus is a longtime party figure who was Republican National Committee chairman before joining a Trump team dominated by outsiders.

Trump changed the communications director job he gave to Scaramucci, specifying that he would report directly to the president, bypassing Priebus. That decision instantly set up a potential rivalry among two men who have had a sometimes-tempestuous relationship in the past.

“We have had odds, we have had differences,” Scaramucci said of Priebus during the CNN interview. “Some brothers are like Cain and Abel” while others can get along, he said. He also suggested that Trump himself knows the contours of some of the internal leaks.

In the New Yorker interview, Scaramucci said that Priebus had blocked him from taking a White House job for the first six months of the administration, again using a profanity.

Shifting Attention

The focus on leaks offers Trump an opportunity to turn public attention from congressional and special counsel probes of Russian meddling in the U.S. election and whether the president’s campaign had any involvement. But the White House infighting also has unsettled many fellow Republicans in Congress as efforts to pass health care and tax legislation are struggling.

Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, told CNN after the Scaramucci interview that while some public spats are inevitable in every presidential administration, "in this White House it’s out of control."

"You don’t have to comment on everything," he said. "I wouldn’t do it."

Scaramucci: Trump May Veto Russia Sanctions, Push ‘Tougher Deal’

After Scaramucci’s Wednesday night conversation with Lizza, he took to Twitter with accusations that he was the victim of an illegal leak of his financial information.

“In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept,” Scaramucci said in his tweet, subsequently tagging Priebus’s Twitter handle in a way that suggested he was calling out the chief of staff as a leaker -- an assertion Scaramucci later denied he was trying to make.

The tweet followed a Politico report that the SkyBridge Capital founder had a net worth of as much as $85 million, citing a financial disclosure dated June 23 that he filed with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

It wasn’t clear that there was a leak. Lorraine Woellert, the Politico reporter, said on Twitter that she requested the financial disclosure form through normal channels and that it was provided by the Export-Import Bank. The documents are supposed to be available to any member of the public within 30 days of being certified by the employing agency, in this case the bank.

Scaramucci deleted his Twitter message on the leak. The bank provided the disclosure to Bloomberg News Thursday afternoon.

— With assistance by Bill Allison, Michael Shepard, Justin Sink, and Toluse Olorunnipa

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