The latest chapter in an ongoing soap opera that's shaken Washington norms
The departure encapsulated the predicament in which Trump now finds himself
Standing behind a crush of reporters in the Oval Office on Monday, Anthony Scaramucci displayed few outward signs his unbridled tenure as President Donald Trump’s communications director was about to end.
Hands thrust into his pockets and a new government ID badge strung around his neck, Scaramucci watched stone-faced as Trump offered an effusive welcome to his new chief of staff, John Kelly.
“With a very controversial situation, there’s been very little controversy,” Trump declared of his incoming top aide’s record heading the Department of Homeland Security.
For Scaramucci, who went on a vulgar screed about his senior-most colleagues and vowed to fire his entire staff during his single stormy week on the job, Trump’s appreciation for a lack of controversy may have proven ominous.
A few hours later, Scaramucci was facing Kelly in the chief of staff’s corner office, learning his West Wing days were over. It was simply the latest chapter in an ongoing soap opera that’s shaken Washington norms, leaving administration aides anxious and exhausted as they scramble to adjust to rapid-fire changes in management.
It was a parting just as abrupt as Scaramucci’s arrival to the White House 10 days ago, which prompted its own tremors among an anxious administration that’s gone six months with few victories. It did little to bolster Trump’s claim, made early Monday morning on Twitter, that there is “No WH chaos!” gripping his team.
Instead, it encapsulated the predicament in which Trump now finds himself: embroiled in disorder which he’s often fueled himself and with the path to stability passing inescapably through more shakeups and turmoil.
“The days of tolerating bulls— in this White House are over,” one source close to the administration said Monday afternoon, shortly after Scaramucci departed the West Wing. Few believe he’ll be the last to go.
Arriving at work early Monday morning, Scaramucci was prepared to begin in earnest his promised reshuffle of the White House communications team after effectively orchestrating last week’s ouster of Reince Priebus as chief of staff.
Instead, he found himself the first victim of Priebus’ replacement, a Marine general seeking to impose discipline on a wayward and warring White House staff.
Just before 9:30 a.m. ET, cameras caught the still-employed Scaramucci standing outside the West Wing, using his characteristic hand gestures to punctuate a conversation with Kellyanne Conway, the presidential counselor.
Outwardly, Scaramucci appeared to be in the President’s good graces. Trump was thrilled with Scaramucci’s debut performance in the briefing room, officials said, during which the wealthy businessman described the President as a born winner with an innate sense of competition.
“I have seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire,” Scaramucci told reporters on July 21, the same day his appointment was announced. “I’ve seen him in Madison Square Garden with a topcoat, standing in the key, hitting shots.”
Trump’s change of heart
Scaramucci’s debut in the West Wing prompted its own seizures – the now-former press secretary Sean Spicer resigned his post in anticipation of Scaramucci’s arrival, determining he couldn’t work alongside the brash financier, and Scaramucci proudly declared that he would report directly to Trump.
In interviews, Scaramucci repeatedly warned Trump aides that he was launching a new effort to ferret out individuals leaking embarrassing information. He began tarnishing Priebus publicly, first in an interview on CNN, comparing his relationship with Priebus to that of the fratricidal brothers Cain and Abel, and later in an expletive-laced rant to the New Yorker, where he described the former Republican National Committee chairman as a “paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.”
Scaramucci’s crude comments last week about Priebus and senior strategist Steve Bannon had not seemed to initially agitate Trump, who invited Scaramucci the next morning to fly aboard Air Force One and later announced he was replacing Priebus, an apparent coup for Scaramucci.
A White House official said Trump originally found Scaramucci’s comments about Priebus and Bannon – which described the men as paranoid and self-serving – as funny and “amusing.”
But as time went on, the President became annoyed with the negative coverage because it “took over everything,” the official said. In Trump’s mind, his new communications director’s profile had become outsized. Scaramucci was “grandstanding,” one source close to the White House said, a grave misdeed that Trump punished by banishing him to “the cheap seats in centerfield.”
The President asked a very close ally on Sunday if Scaramucci had seriously and permanently damaged himself. The ally replied that he had, a person familiar with the conversation said, and Trump seemed to agree.
Nevertheless, Scaramucci began Monday believing he could weather the storm surrounding him, three people who talked to him said. “He had no plans to resign,” a person who talked to Scaramucci Monday said. “He thought he could fix it.”
It turned out he was wrong.
’John Kelly is in charge now’
Kelly, who told White House staffers in a morning meeting that he plans to demand order and discipline among the ranks, “clearly had no confidence in (Scaramucci),” one person close to the new chief of staff said.
“John Kelly is in charge now,” the person said. “Scaramucci is a very different employee than what Kelly would tolerate working with.”
Two more sources close to the White House said it was more than just Kelly who was unhappy with Scaramucci – Trump himself, while initially supportive of Scaramucci’s behavior last week, eventually soured on his communications director.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged on Monday that Trump found Scaramucci’s coarse descriptions of Priebus and Bannon unacceptable.
“The President certainly felt that Anthony’s comments were inappropriate for someone in that position, and he didn’t want to burden General Kelly also with that line of succession,” Sanders said.
Scaramucci officially held the job for five days, the shortest tenure of any communications director at the White House, according to CNN’s count. Scaramucci accepted the job on July 21, ten days before he resigned, but his official start date was July 26.
Both standards would amount to the shortest of any former White House communications director, a title formerly held by Jack Koehler, who resigned 12 days into his 1987 tenure after it became public that, at 10 years old, he was a member of a Nazi youth group.
At the White House, the news of Scaramucci’s dismissal was met with a now-practiced response. Reporters scrambled to the press offices to seek comment, aides walked briskly between rooms avoiding questions, and the President went about his schedule.
Within the hour of the news breaking, a smiling Kelly was seen in the White House East Room to watch as Trump awarded his first Medal of Honor.
Also present: Spicer, the former press secretary, who remains on the payroll as Sanders transitions into the job as his successor. As news of Scaramucci’s demise emerged, Spicer’s mood was upbeat and smiling.
Trump himself sought to deliver a similar message on Friday as the day wound down.
“A great day at the White House!” he declared on Twitter.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, Kaitlan Collins, Gloria Borger, Elizabeth Landers, Jim Acosta and Dan Merica contributed to this report.