WHITE HOUSE RIFTS GROW
Communications chief on leaks: “This fish stinks from the head down”
President Donald Trump’s new communications chief shoves the behind-thescenes drama at the White House onto center stage, daring Trump’s chief of staff to publicly deny he’s a “leaker.”
WASHINGTON» President Donald Trump’s new communications director exploded the smoldering tensions at the White House into a full-fledged conflagration Thursday, angrily daring Trump’s chief of staff to deny he’s a “leaker” and exposing West Wing backstabbing in language more suitable to a mobster movie than a seat of presidential stability.
In a pull-no-punches, impromptu CNN interview that he said was authorized by the president, Anthony Scaramucci went after Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in graphic terms. “The fish stinks from the head down,” he said. “I can tell you two fish that don’t stink, and that’s me and the president.”
Not even a week into his new job, Scaramucci accused unidentified senior officials of trying to sabotage him and committing a felony by leaking information. But the personal financial information that he said someone had “leaked” about him had been obtained simply through a public-records request.
Then in an interview published by The New Yorker late Thursday, an angry Scaramucci used an expletive to accuse Priebus of being a “paranoid schizophrenic” and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon of trying to burnish his own reputation.
He also threatened to fire White House staffers who leaked about a dinner he had with the president.
“They’ll all be fired by me,” Scaramucci told the magazine. “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.”
By day’s end Scaramucci sounded calmer, though not regretful.
“I sometimes use colorful language. I will refrain in this arena but not give up the passionate fight for @realDonaldTrump’s agenda. #MAGA,” he tweeted. The tag at the end stands for Trump’s “Make America Great Again.”
He also blamed the reporter, Ryan Lizza. “I made a mistake in trusting in a reporter,” he added later. “It won’t happen again.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred reporters to the first tweet.
The president’s senior counselor, Kellyanne Conway, had earlier speculated in a Fox News interview that unnamed forces
were out to get Scaramucci, saying: “Somebody is trying to get in his way and scare him off.”
“There are leaks, and then there are people using the press to shiv each other in the ribs,” she said.
Meanwhile, no one in the White House took up for Priebus — including Priebus himself. Sanders avoided giving a direct answer when asked whether Trump has confidence in Priebus.
The past 24 hours provided the clearest evidence yet that Scaramucci and Trump, both brash New Yorkers, are cut from the same cloth. One of their shared techniques: publicly shaming members of their own team.
Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and frequent outside adviser to Trump, said in an interview that Scaramucci’s attacks on Priebus are problematic.
“They’ve got to get this sorted out between the two of them, and it would be nice if they didn’t do it in public,” he said.
Yet after Scaramucci’s call-in CNN performance — a move lifted from his boss’ playbook — it was difficult to see how the two could mend fences.
“I don’t know if this is repairable or not — that will be up to the president,” Scaramucci said on air. He compared their relationship to that of brothers who are “rough on each other,” invoking Cain and Abel. One of those biblical brothers murdered the other.
The bad blood stems from Scaramucci’s view that Priebus was insufficiently supportive of Trump at the end of the election campaign and his belief that Priebus persuaded the president to keep him out of the White House in January.
Six months later, Scaramucci’s close relationship with the president trumped the opposition of Priebus and Bannon.
Scaramucci’s arrival in the West Wing last Friday marked the first in a series of falling dominoes that seemed to be leading toward Priebus. Press secretary Sean Spicer, a close ally of Priebus, resigned last week. Scaramucci then forced out another communications aide close to Priebus.