White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and President Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon confronted Anthony Scaramucci in the West Wing on Friday morning, threatening to block the financier’s appointment as Trump’s communications director.
Scaramucci laughed it off, according to a person familiar with the exchange, because he knew something they didn’t: He already had the job.
For Scaramucci, the appointment completed a remarkable journey that saw him rumored for one senior administration job after another only to see the offers slip away amid internal opposition from Priebus and others.
Now the telegenic Scaramucci, a fast-talking fixture on the international circuit from Davos, Switzerland, to his own lavish hedge fund conference in Las Vegas, is at the center of power in the chaotic Trump White House. He is now charged with repairing a toxic relationship between the press and a president who regularly rips what he calls the “fake news media.”
At a White House briefing on Friday, Scaramucci—widely referred to as “The Mooch”—spoke repeatedly of his “love” for the president, to whom he said he will report. “I think there has been at times a disconnect between the way we see the president and how much we love the president and the way perhaps some of you see the president,” he said.
Invoking Wall Street lingo, he added that there might an “arbitrage spread between how well we are doing and how well some of you guys think we are doing and we are going to work hard to close that spread.”
Scaramucci said he hopes that press secretary Sean Spicer – who resigned Friday after registering his own opposition to Scaramucci’s appointment – will go on “to make a tremendous amount of money.” He also repeatedly expressed his desire to work closely with Priebus, who he said he’d been “personal friends” with for years. “We are a little bit like brothers where we rough each other up once and a while,” he said, noting that he once offered Priebus a job at his hedge fund firm.
He said deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be elevated to replace Spicer, who will leave in August. “The Navy S.E.A.L.s will tell you that if you want to eat an elephant, you’ve got to do it one bite at a time and Sarah and I will do that together,” he said.
People who know Scaramucci say he could be a good fit for this new challenging role. A relentless networker who emerged as a major conduit of Wall Street cash to GOP candidates in recent years, Scaramucci generally likes and respects reporters and understands they have a job to do, people inside and outside the White House say.
He is a fierce counter-puncher who emerged in recent months as a Trump favorite for his television appearances defending the president. But he also likes engaging with the press and wants to present the White House message in a positive way rather than get dragged into daily scrums.
“When I first met him, within moments he drilled down into who I was, where I was from and what my world view was,” said Stu Loeser, who served as spokesman for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and now runs his own advisory firm. “He’s an incredibly charming person. And right now you have a White House that is so angry at its press corps, and vice versa, that it’s impossible for them to interact in even the smallest way and have positive movement forward.”
One White House official who backed Scaramucci’s appointment said of the former hedge fund manager: “He gets that we have a First Amendment in this country and that reporters are just trying to do their jobs.”
Critics of Scaramucci’s appointment, including Spicer, argue that the former Wall Street executive has no real communications experience and could flounder in the very difficult job of representing a boss who often ignores messaging advice and simply says whatever he wants whenever he wants no matter what it means for his struggling agenda.
And Scaramucci hasn’t always embraced the same commitment to transparency he talked about from the podium on Friday. A few years ago, while interviewing PR firms, he was blunt about what he was looking for, according to one person present for the meeting. During the 90-minute meeting, Scaramucci told this person: “I need someone who’s prepared to go to the mat and lie for me.”
One thing Scaramucci has right now is the admiration of the president for his many appearances on cable TV. That’s something Spicer, demoted from his on-camera job speaking for the president, sorely lacked.
Scaramucci, 53, was not always such a big Trump backer.
During the 2016 primary campaign he cycled through several candidates, beginning with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker then moving on to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, before finally coming around to Trump once the real estate magnate secured the GOP nomination.
Scaramucci was never quite “Never Trump” but he was critical of the GOP candidate on Twitter during the primaries, something Democrats gleefully noted on Friday. In an August, 2015 appearance on Fox Business, Scaramucci referred to Trump as “another hack politician” who would become “president of the Queens County Bullies Association.” Scaramucci said Friday he has repeatedly apologized to Trump for his comments.
As soon as the primaries ended, Scaramucci offered his services to the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign as a major donor, fundraiser and prominent public surrogate for the GOP nominee’s economic plans to cut taxes and regulations.
After Trump surprised the world and won, Scaramucci made plans to sell his hedge fund, SkyBridge Capital, in anticipation of taking a senior White House job. Initially, Scaramucci thought he would get the job of director of the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, a senior role equivalent to one held by Valerie Jarrett in President Barack Obama’s White House that manages relationships with big business groups.
But vetting Scaramucci’s sale of SkyBridge to a unit of China’s HNA Group and RON Transatlantic EG held up the appointment. So did opposition from Priebus who urged Scaramucci to pull out. Scaramucci’s name was later mentioned for other top advisor jobs and possible ambassadorships that he declined. The SkyBridge sale still has not closed. And Scaramucci said Friday his start date wouldn’t be for a couple of weeks so that everything can be “100 percent totally cleansed and clean and I don’t see an issue with it.”
Recently, Scaramucci accepted a post at the Export-Import Bank – but he always had his eyes on the West Wing. And after taking on CNN over a now-retracted report about his finances, Scaramucci rose even further in the estimation of a president obsessed with pushing back on negative media coverage, especially from CNN.
The job of White House communications director completes a long climb for Scaramucci, an Italian-American born to modest means on Long Island, where his father was a construction worker. He graduated from Tufts and Harvard Law School before beginning his Wall Street career in investment banking at Goldman Sachs, which has produced many of Trump’s top aides including Steve Bannon, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, among others.
Scaramucci left Goldman in 1996 and began a hedge fund career that included the founding of SkyBridge in 2005. In 2009, Scaramucci launched the SkyBridge Alternatives “SALT” Conference in Las Vegas, an event that quickly became a star-studded extravaganza featuring the likes of Magic Johnson and Kevin Spacey along with top politicians from both parties and senior Wall Street bankers.
Scaramucci became a regular on financial television including CNBC and later re-launched the defunct “Wall Street Week,” made famous by Louis Rukeyser, and sold the broadcast rights for the show to Fox.
Now he’s getting a chance to complete what he describes as a personal dream. “I have a lot of family members that served in the American military,” he said Friday. “I did not serve, I filled out the selective service. It’s one of the regrets for my life. So this is an opportunity for me to serve the country. I love the president.”
Annie Karni contributed to this report.
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