White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said Thursday that he doesn't know if his relationship with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus can be repaired, and he urged Priebus to publicly prove that he has not leaked damaging information to the media.
“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 then get along. I don't know if this is repairable or not — that will be up to the president,” Scaramucci said in a phone interview with CNN early Thursday morning, referencing the biblical brothers without mentioning that Cain murdered Abel.
Scaramucci told The Washington Post on Thursday that Trump authorized him to do the CNN interview and discuss Priebus and leaks.
Late Wednesday night, following dinner with the president and others at the White House, Scaramucci responded to a Politico report about the financial disclosure form he filed during his stint at the Export-Import Bank earlier this year. The public can request to see these documents, and the article notes that the form is “publicly available upon request.” Scaramucci fired off a tweet that labeled the release of his financial disclosure a “leak” and “a felony,” adding Priebus's Twitter handle to the end of the message.
“In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept #swamp @Reince45,” Scaramucci tweeted.
Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said in an unusual statement late Wednesday night: “We have seen an astonishing increase in the number of leaks of classified national security information in recent months. We agree with Anthony that these 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.”
Some journalists interpreted Scaramucci's late-night tweet as blaming Priebus for the leak. Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker tweeted late Wednesday night: “In case there's any ambiguity in his tweet I can confirm that Scaramucci wants the FBI to investigate Priebus for leaking.”
Scaramucci later deleted the tweet. In the CNN interview, he said that he tagged Priebus because as “chief of staff, he's responsible for understanding and uncovering” leakers in the White House. In the CNN interview, Scaramucci said that journalists like Lizza interpreted the tweet as blaming Priebus because they “actually know who the leakers are.”
“So if Reince wants to explain that he's not a leaker, let him do that,” Scaramucci said.
Scaramucci's comments came as he unexpectedly called into CNN on Thursday morning to respond to Lizza, a CNN contributor who was on the air. The call was reminiscent of Trump's time on the campaign trail when he would phone into morning talk shows.
“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, as if having a private conversation with Lizza and not a live interview being broadcast on CNN. “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 try to make it clear to viewers what Scaramucci was talking about.
Scaramucci then said that he had just spent 15 minutes on the phone with the president, “who has given me his full support and his full blessing,” and he announced that he had a statement to read.
“I'm going to read you something, Chris, and you'll bear with me. And the president also told me, if you're nice to me in this segment, he'll let me come back on the show. Is that cool?” Scaramucci said.
It was unclear if 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.” He added that he has done “a major amount of work over the last five days” and has interviewed most of the assistants to the president and members of the White House communications team.
“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 undercut and undercover or out if you will the leakers in the entire country.”
Scaramucci said that 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.
The communications director then reflected on how he's Trump's “friend first” and how they're both from New York and how he sat next to first lady Melania Trump at dinner at the White House Wednesday night and how he's “an American businessman, an entrepreneur who has built two businesses” and how he tries to “play it straight with people,” a refrain he often repeats.
“I said to the president this morning, 'I can't afford to be a sycophant to you, sir. I have to talk to you straight, as a friend, so I can help you with this problem,'" Scaramucci said.
He said that 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, okay? And that's me and the president.”
Scaramucci then launched into his comments on Cain, Abel and Priebus.
“Let me tell you something about myself,” he said at one point. “I am a straight shooter. I'll go right to the heart of the matter. Okay, so I'm done talking. You can ask me questions. But be nice on this segment, Chris, because this is a very serious matter of interest to all of America.”
Cuomo and Scaramucci then went back and forth over what exactly he meant by “be nice,” with Cuomo making clear that reporters have a job to do. Cuomo then asked Scaramucci about the clear drama playing out between him and Priebus.
“Under-confidence plus insecurity always equals paranoia and backstabbing,” Scaramucci said, explaining what he has learned in the business world. “And so what you have to do, as a manager, is you have to go through the process in the system and figure out where the backstabbing is coming from. That will lead you to the people that are insecure or under-confident. If you can't bolster them and make them better, then you have to remove them from the process because then it becomes addition by subtraction.”
Scaramucci continued: “I don't want to talk about anybody specifically because we're on a live television wire. But the people know. The journalists know … The people know. You know who knows? The president of the United States. The president of the United States again, whether you guys like the guy, you dislike the guy, he's the smartest person that I've ever worked for. Okay? So let Vanity Fair write about that, I honestly don't care.”
As Cuomo tried asking Scaramucci another question, the communications director kept cutting him off, elaborating on the president's leak-fighting mission and then attacking CNN's focus on the investigations into connections between Trump's campaign and Russia. He then riffed on how it's an honor for people to work in the White House, and they should respect the institution.
“If there's 300 people working there, and there's 300 million people in the country, you're one in a million,” Scaramucci said.
“Right,” Cuomo said.
“Why don't you honor the job? Do you remember Joe Paterno? What would he say?” Scaramucci said, invoking the former Penn State football coach who died amid accusations that he ignored signs that assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was sexually assaulting young boys.
“Okay,” Cuomo said.
“He'd say, 'Act like you've been there before,'” Scaramucci said. “Act with honor and dignity and respect. And hold the confidence of the presidency in his office.”
After trying to dodge questions about Russia and trying to order Cuomo to save that issue for the end of the interview, Scaramucci said that the president is “skeptical” about information coming from his intelligence agencies because they were wrong about there being weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the United States invaded.
“Thank God we have President Donald J. Trump in the room who's going to have a bit of skepticism and a cautious eye on this stuff to protect the American people and particularly American servicemen,” Scaramucci said.
As Cuomo tried to press Scaramucci on this logic, Scaramucci cut him off to say: “Sorry before you say all that, I'm trying to give your viewers insight into the president's personality, okay? The president says all the time: 'There is one country in the world that can take our country out in 35 minutes. I don't know if they have 8,700 nukes, whatever the numbers are, it's a big number. It's incumbent upon us, and it's incumbent upon them, whatever you think of them, that we try to get along with each other.' Okay? Go to the next question. Go ahead.”
The two then bantered on how to refer to the president's base and approval ratings. Scaramucci again complained about leaks, reminded everyone yet again that he talked to the president for 15 minutes that morning and claimed to respect journalists.
“I wasn't a journalist, but I did play one on TV, and the journalists are figuring out whether they're on the left or on the right,” Scaramucci said. “I'm going to treat them with respect, dignity and kindness because they're a member of the Fourth Estate. We all believe in the First Amendment. We're going to give them an opportunity to review everything that we're doing.”
Cuomo jumped in: “I don't know any journalist who's trying to figure out if they're on the left or on the right.”
“Crystal clear transparency,” Scaramucci said.
“I don't know any journalist who's trying to figure that out. Journalists know exactly where they're supposed to be when it comes to politics,” Cuomo said, as Scaramucci asked what he meant. “You said as journalists are trying to figure out if they're on the left or on the right. I don't know any journalist …”
Scaramucci cut him off: “No, that's not what I said. I said journalists are trying to figure out the administration. Let me rephrase it.”
“Oh please,” Cuomo said.
Scaramucci then went off on grammar, gushed about the president and took a swipe at CNN's Jake Tapper, then said he was joking when Cuomo pressed him on it.
“What I love about you guys is you hit me three times hard, I say something teasing, you guys get upset,” Scaramucci said.
“You think this is hard?” Cuomo said. “I'm giving you pats on the head like you were a puppy.”
“Finally, we're having a real straight up conversation,” Scaramucci said.
Cuomo pressed Scaramucci about the residual profits he is still receiving from SkyBridge Capital, his former hedge fund that was at the heart of the Politico story that so angered Scaramucci on Wednesday night. And he asked if Scaramucci seriously wants the FBI or Department of Justice to investigate how Politico got the publicly available document.
“I don't know. I don't know,” Scaramucci said. " … I like bringing up the Department of Justice and the FBI, because people who have done something wrong, it makes them nervous, Chris. I haven't done anything wrong so I am not nervous at all. When people do things wrong and you mention the FBI and the Department of Justice, you watch, I told the president this morning, when the iceberg hits the boat, the rats are flying up from steerage right? Because the water comes in steerage. So when you mention the FBI and the Department of Justice, you watch how the rats lift in the boat.”
Cuomo then noted that boats hit icebergs, not the other way around. He did not explore why Scaramucci just compared the White House to a sinking ship.
“Okay, that's really cute,” Scaramucci said. “You're doing a good job this morning. That's like a really cute way to spin my metaphor. But you get the point that I'm making. Go ahead. Keep going.”
Scaramucci then told Cuomo that he would take one more question. Cuomo passed.
But before he hung up, Scaramucci accused Cuomo of dominating the conversation and not allowing his co-host, Alisyn Camerota, to ask any questions.
“Anybody can measure this conversation — you did most of the talking,” Cuomo said, “as you should because this is about you making your case.”
Philip Rucker contributed to this report.