New chief of staff asserts his authority
John Kelly removes Anthony Scaramucci, as the White House turbulence continues.
WASHINGTON — Anthony Scaramucci, the brash New Yorker who was announced just 10 days ago as President Trump’s incoming communications director, was ousted on Monday as new White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly moved quickly to exert control over a chaotic administration.
Kelly pulled Scaramucci aside shortly after 9:30 a.m. and told him he was out of the job that he hadn’t yet officially assumed, according to a person close to the White House. That was just after Kelly, the former Homeland Security secretary, was sworn in as chief of staff to replace the displaced Reince Priebus — and a few hours after Trump had tweeted “No WH chaos!”
While Scaramucci’s time at the center of the president’s circle was short, it was consequential, prompting Priebus’ departure on Friday and, a week before that, Sean Spicer’s resignation as White House press secretary. Scaramucci also pushed out an assistant press secretary, Michael Short, who resigned last week after Scaramucci accused him of leaking.
Both Priebus and Spicer had counseled Trump against naming Scaramucci, given what they considered his unsuitability for the job.
In a sign of the breakneck speed at which the White House turmoil is playing out, Scaramucci had not even officially begun his job when he was forced out, while Spicer, the man he replaced, had not actually left yet since he had agreed to help with the transition.
Scaramucci, a former hedge fund executive who enjoyed the limelight, had come on strong in his brief tenure, which was highlighted by a profane tirade against Priebus and White
House strategist Stephen K. Bannon in an exchange last week with a reporter for the New Yorker magazine.
In a statement announcing the development, the White House said Scaramucci “felt it was best to give Chief of Staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team.”
In recent days, Scaramucci, known as “the Mooch,” seemed to revel in a new nickname, Trump’s “Mini-Me,” that was in wide circulation and reflected their similarities as outspoken and sometimes foulmouthed wheeler-dealers from New York.
Yet Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump took issue with Scaramucci’s conduct and “found it inappropriate for a person in that position.”
The abrupt shift, however, seemed to reflect Kelly’s arrival. The mission for the retired Marine general is to bring order to the chain of command within the White House; cutting Scaramucci was reportedly a condition for his taking the chief of staff job.
That change amounted to undoing Trump’s own hiring decision. Scaramucci publicly said he would report directly to the president, although communications directors typically report to the chief of staff like everyone else on staff.
Sanders confirmed Kelly’s power, one that Priebus didn’t enjoy: “Gen. Kelly has the full authority to operate within the White House and all staff will report to him.”
The White House declaration of full authority in Kelly’s hands poses a major test for Trump, who has resisted numerous attempts at imposing structure since the early days of his presidential campaign.
How Trump conducts himself, including whether he limits his frequent and often surprising posts on Twitter, will determine as much as anything how well Kelly can manage the administration — and, if Kelly can’t, how long he is willing to stay in the job.
Scaramucci’s sacking, in the wake of the other recent resignations and speculation about the fates of Bannon, Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and national security advisor H.R. McMaster, reflects a moment of extreme turbulence in the White House. The staff has been embroiled in infighting as factions struggle to respond to Trump’s low poll numbers, a floundering legislative agenda and the investigations into Russian election meddling, possible Trump campaign collusion and obstruction of justice by the president.
Before coming to the White House a week and a half ago, Scaramucci had been appointed to a senior role at the Export-Import Bank, a relatively obscure agency, but he won’t be returning to that job.
“He does not have a role at this time in the Trump administration,” Sanders said.
Kelly’s influence might have been at work in another personnel matter — stemming speculation about whether Trump would remove his attorney general.
Sanders, who last week repeatedly declined to say whether Sessions had the president’s full confidence, in her Monday briefing responded to a question on Sessions’ job status by replying that Trump had “100% confidence” in all of his Cabinet secretaries.
Trump himself said “time will tell” when he was asked last week about Sessions. The president has called Sessions “beleaguered” and even “very weak,” and publicly has said that his frustration with Sessions, once among his closest allies, stems from Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, an act that led to the appointment of a special counsel.
Sanders also batted down reports that the White House was discussing moving Sessions to head the Department of Homeland Security, the job made vacant by Kelly’s move to the White House.
Sanders said the White House has had “no conversations” about any Cabinet members switching jobs.
Republican senators have publicly opposed firing Sessions, and a couple have objected to shifting him to another post as well, given that it could appear that Trump is trying to affect the investigations of himself and his campaign in the context of Russia’s election interference.
After word spread of Scaramucci’s ouster, Spicer, who despite his resignation had stayed on to help with the transition for his replacement, walked out of his office to a throng of reporters.
“Is this a surprise party?” he asked.
Trump himself seemed pleased with how things had unfolded. At 6:19 p.m., the president wrote on Twitter: “A great day at the White House!”
THE TENURE of incoming communications director Anthony Scaramucci lasted just 10 days.
NEW CHIEF OF STAFF John F. Kelly, left, confers with Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. The mission for the retired Marine general is to bring order to the White House chain of command. Firing Scaramucci was reportedly a condition for his taking the job.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI with reporters last week. In a statement, the White House said Scaramucci “felt it was best to give Chief of Staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team.”