“Anthony won’t be able to do anything for a couple of weeks,” came the reply from the press handler for White House communications director Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci. “Focusing on getting everything rolling right now. But circle back with me in a couple of weeks and we can see about setting something up.”
I had asked the press handler where matters stood with my interview request and whether he believed today was a good day for him to introduce me personally to the Mooch. This was on the morning of Monday, July 31. Exactly 21 minutes after this exchange took place, the Mooch was fired as communications director.
It would still take a few hours for news of Scaramucci’s firing to break, and thrown out together with the Mooch were all his interview requests filed through the White House’s press handlers. And while I’d get to know the Mooch over the coming months, getting an interview with the self-made centimillionaire would prove to be harder than necessary, and it was mostly my fault.
“I have some time next week,” the Mooch told me on a number of occasions, “but it would have to be over the phone.” An exhaustive schedule made it difficult for him to commit to too many in-person interviews.
“Haven’t you learned your lesson about not giving phone interviews?” I once asked him half jokingly, in reference to the fact that a phone interview was what brought his White House gig to an abrupt end.
He got the joke.
“Look, Anthony,” I said in all seriousness, “would you ever turn down the opportunity to sit down face to face with Anthony Scaramucci? Of course not. And neither would I. I’m willing to wait as long as necessary.”
He got the compliment.
Eventually push came to shove, and I got an hour of the Mooch’s time.
952,000 Seconds of Fame
“You keep saying you were on the job 11 days,” I begin once we’re settled in the conference room of Manhattan’s posh Core Club. “Personally, I thought it was closer to nine days.” I ask this question hoping to settle a duel that the Mooch and I had engaged in over Twitter.
The Mooch breaks it down. “It was actually 11 days. You want me to prove it to you? I’m in the White House [Friday,] July 21, that’s one day. Right? Now, in the White House you work 24/7, so I’m working on Saturday, even though it’s the Sabbath—well, not my Sabbath, I don’t light the Shabbos candles, I get it; I’m there Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then Monday at two p.m. I left. That’s 11 days.”
“But you were out Monday morning,” I point out. “That’s not a full day.”
“I got fired at 9:37, to be exact, but I worked a full day because there was stuff I had to do.”
All right, so let’s say it was 11 days. How exactly had the Mooch been given his walking papers? Who tells a communications director that’s he’s been relieved of his duties? The Mooch walks me through the process.
“The truth of the matter is, I flew with the president to the MS-13 speech in Long Island that Friday. I stayed up in Long Island because I knew that [Chief of Staff Reince] Priebus was being fired, and I didn’t want to be on the plane with Priebus when he was getting fired. So I took an Uber from the airport to my mother’s house and I was hanging out at my mother’s house. Priebus got fired at five o’clock, and I said to myself, ‘Let’s see what happens.’
“The president called me the next morning and told me to meet him in the Oval Office, and I said no problem. Then things changed for me either on Saturday or on Sunday. I don’t think John Kelly wanted to work with me, and it was either him or me. The president had just named him chief of staff, so there was no going back. Look, I’m a big boy. He’s an executive, I’m an executive, I’ve been on the side of firing people before in my life, and I had been fired. So you know, you have to take it like a man. He fired me in five minutes; I shook his hand and I left.”
Did being fired after just 11 days take him by surprise, though?
“I knew I was fired when my White House cell was disconnected. When I landed at seven a.m. that Monday morning, I turned my White House cell phone on and it wasn’t working. So I knew I was fired.”
“Why would they disconnect your phone as a way of informing you that you were fired?” I wonder.
“They didn’t exactly do it that way. If I didn’t know that my gig was up, I would have thought something was wrong with my phone and blamed it on technology.”
So what happened between seven and 9:30?
“I went to the eight o’clock staff meeting, then I went to John Kelly’s swearing-in [as chief-of-staff] at the Oval, and then I went back to my office. Then Kelly called me into his office and fired me.”
“Throughout it all,” I point out, “you’ve managed to get farther in 11 days than most people get in 11 years. How do you understand that?”
“Life is what happens to you when you’re planning something else. You’re making plans about your life and G-d is laughing. It was a very improbable situation for me to be one day working at the Export-Import Bank as their chief strategy officer, and the very next day behind the podium as communications director, taking questions.
“The president called me Thursday, July 20, and told me to come over and asked me if I wanted to be communications director, and I said yes.”
“The president called you personally?”
“I think Ivanka called me. It could have been the president, I don’t remember. But I met with him. Let me tell you this—if the president of the United States calls you and tells you to be at his office by four, you don’t look at your watch and say, ‘Oh, gee, I’ve got something else going on, I can’t make it.’ So I was in his office at four, in his study off the Oval, and we spoke about what he wanted.”
There’s no doubt that the Mooch was subjected to tremendous personal and professional upheaval with both his appointment to and firing from the White House. And yet he seems to harbor no animosity toward the president. Why is that?
“Let me tell you something. [Being president] is the hardest job in the world. You’re serving at his discretion. What are you gonna do? You’re gonna lose your friendship with a guy you’ve known for over 20 years because you’re in a fight with people inside the White House? By the way, what I said about those people [at the White House] is true. I’m a ‘front-stabber,’ not a backstabber, so you know I told them to their faces what I felt. I didn’t hold back. Do I look like the guy that holds back? That’s why I can’t be a politician. I don’t hold back.”
“Is that a problem for a communications director, though?” I ask. “Don’t they expect you to sugarcoat everything?”
“Come on. Was I the right guy for communications, or what? Let’s be honest. I said we’re going to turn the cameras on, we’re going to help the president, we’re going to get on his agenda, we’re going to clean out the leakers. I was handling it the way a CEO would handle it for an entrepreneur. It was an entrepreneurial approach and they wanted me to handle it with more sugarcoating, like a political operative.
“I’m an accidental person in the political process because I got involved with Trump and I happen to be halfway good on TV. He called me and said, ‘We’ve gotta fire these guys,’ and I said, ‘I’m ready to go. Let’s fire them. Let’s go.’”
The Mooch’s First Accomplishments
“Let’s go back to April,” the Mooch says, starting a trip down memory lane. “April, May, June and half of July. Look at the internecine warfare taking place inside the White House and look at the massive personal-attack leaking that was going on.”
“To the point that they were forced to turn off the cameras in the briefing room,” I mention.
“Yeah. It was out of control.”
“Thanks for turning them back on,” I offer.
“Of course—that was the first thing I did.”
“I got called on three times at last week’s briefing,” I inform him, “which would have been meaningless if not for your gracious effort to get the cameras turned back on.”
“It was important to get the cameras turned back on in order to understand the republic. We’re in the 242nd year of the American experiment, and the founders wanted the checks and balances system to work; the fourth estate was given the right to freedom of the press in order to check power. The founders knew that power is a corrupting force, and so turning the lights on and making sure that the cameras were running again is staying true to that original intent.”
“In hindsight,” I ask, “knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently?”
“That’s a very tough question. If I say that I’d have done things differently, then I sound like I’m a know-it-all. But here’s what I would say—things are coming at you, and you can only do the best that you can to make decisions based on available information on what’s happening to you at that time. I can be a Monday-morning quarterback now and say I wish I could have said this or said that, but it doesn’t matter. Because at the end of the day, as I said to [television host] Stephen Colbert, I thought I’d have lasted longer than a carton of milk in your refrigerator, but I didn’t think I would last that long because I was hired to fire people. Once you are hired to be a hatchet person, guess what happens to you? The knives come out. I made a mistake, I made it very easy for them to fire me, but ultimately I was going to get fired. There were too many people against me not to get fired.”
“Are you saying that there were others who were influential in getting you fired, besides John Kelly?”
“Let me put it to you this way. Whoever the friends of Rience Preibus and Steve Bannon are, you think they wanted me there? I mean, it’s a rhetorical question; they obviously wanted me fired. I think the president and John Kelly were the ones who made the decision to get me fired, and I accepted the decision.” The Mooch brings up a conversation he had with reporter Ryan Lizza that he had failed to say was off the record.
“I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have talked to that reporter; I shouldn’t have trusted him.”
“Couldn’t you simply have told that reporter that the conversation was off the record?”
“You have to remember that my family had a 50-year relationship with his family. I didn’t think it was necessary. Howie Kurtz, from Fox News, said he’s been in media for 40 years and he’s never seen a journalist do that to a White House official. Rahm Emanuel used a lot of profane words, Barack Obama used a lot of profanity; there was no reason for Ryan Lizza to do that to me.”
Trump for Prime Minister of Israel?
“What has your relationship with the president been like since you left the position?” I ask.
“I don’t think my relationship with him has changed. I had a good relationship with him before, and I feel like in some ways I have a better relationship with him now. Because I took a hit, and I think I proved to him and to everyone else involved that my loyalty wasn’t based on my securing a job; my loyalty was based on my belief in him and in his policies. And I’m not going to break my relationship with him because I got fired. That’s ridiculous.”
“And from what I understand, you speak with him quite regularly. Is that correct?”
“So I don’t wanna exaggerate my relationship with the president [as others do]. I do talk to him once in a while.”
The Mooch then shares a recent exchange he had with the president.
“Here’s a fun, totally true story. I’m driving with [executive vice president of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce] Joe Frager in Israel. It’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. We’re taking a midnight flight, we’re on the way to the airport. It’s like three in the afternoon at Mar-a-Lago, and I say, ‘Let’s call the president and see if he comes on the phone.’
“So I call the number. The signal operator comes on and says, ‘Hold for the president.’ He comes on the phone and says, ‘Anthony!’ And I say, ‘Yeah, I’m calling to wish you a happy Thanksgiving.’ And he says, ‘How are you doing?’ and I say, ‘I’m great, I’m actually in Israel. I’m here with a couple of your friends; I’m going to put you on speaker.’ And he says, ‘Who are you there with?’ Anyway, so I put him on speaker and he says, ‘I want you guys to go back to Jerusalem, and I want you to tell Bibi that I’m coming over to beat him for prime minister. I think I could beat him for prime minister. Don’t you guys think I can beat him for prime minister?’
“That’s my relationship with him. I’m not there to talk policy with him. Now, if he calls and asks me for my opinion, that’s completely off the record, that’s confidential; I’d never betray that.”
How does someone get through to the president on his private line?
“So the way that works is he gives you the number, you call the White House, they put you on hold. If he picks up the phone, then you’re in the system. Once you’re in the system, they’ll tell the president, ‘Mr. Scaramucci is on the phone,’ and then they’ll get back to me and say, ‘Oh, he’s busy’ or ‘He’ll call you back’ or ‘Can you call back in an hour?’”
How many people would the Mooch surmise have that direct number to the president?
“I don’t know the answer to that, but I would say more than you think, because he’s a gregarious, outgoing guy.”
The War With Media
I note that matters between the president and the press have not really improved much in the early months of 2018. The president is struggling to get his message out despite the many distractions taking place. What’s being done wrong? What should be done differently? What would the Mooch have changed if he were still in his position?
“I’ve said this publicly and I’ll continue to say this publicly: Steve Bannon did a great disservice to the administration by declaring war on the media. And I think that the White House would be best served if they could come up with a way to declare an armistice and have an adversarial relationship with the media but not open warfare.”
He offers an example.
“If I’m engaged in open warfare with you, now we’re gonna argue over ‘I would have a good relationship with the North Korean president’ versus ‘I have a good relationship with the North Korean president.’ You see what they’re fighting over? That sort of squabble wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a declared war.”
So what would the Mooch do at this point?
“I would hit a reset and I would invite all the major media heads, like the president did in Trump Tower during the transition. I would do that again.”
I ask whether the Mooch proposed this to the president.
“Yes, I did propose it. It’s in my communications plan. Nine pages. You can find it on the Internet.”
How far back does the rift between the Mooch and Bannon go?
“I went to Davos, Switzerland, to speak on behalf of the president, and Bannon didn’t like that. He’s a nationalist and that’s a globalist forum that he hates. And that began a rift. So that goes back to last year.
“You know, I think it started earlier than I realized. The great irony about Steve is that for all his railing against ‘the swamp,’ he was as swampy as anyone gets. He was leaking on people. He was currying and scurrying favor with different journalists. You’re a White House correspondent, so you know he was a masterful leaker. The president said he was a leaker, I said he was a leaker, and the journalists know he was a leaker.
“I had two or three meetings in the Roosevelt Room with the [communications] team and said, ‘No more cutouts’—that’s when someone like Steve Bannon would turn to the comms teams and say, ‘Go leak to Ami Magazine blah, blah, blah, and do it in a way that it doesn’t look like it came from me.’ This stuff happens in Washington all the time.”
Scaramucci’s skirmish with Reince Priebus goes back earlier than that, though.
“Bannon had an unholy alliance with Reince. Reince didn’t like me. He didn’t want me in the West Wing. I don’t know why that was; you’d have to ask Reince.”
“But you did describe your relationship with Priebus as being ‘like brothers’ during your briefing that first Friday,” I counter.
“The reason I set it up like that is so that I could say it was like Cain and Abel.”
The Mooch had believed Bannon’s demise to be inevitable.
“Bannon is for Bannon. When somebody is like that, has a messiah complex, you only care about yourself, it’s your way or the highway, and they’re not a team player. Bannon was so delusional that he thought the Michael Wolf book would be a springboard into the 2020 campaign. He thought he was going to expose that he was the genius behind Trump and that he was gonna be Trumpism without Trump.
“Trump didn’t need Steve Bannon; he didn’t need any of us. He carried every one of us over his back across the finish line. He didn’t need Anthony Scaramucci, he didn’t need Steve Bannon. He made us all famous.” The Mooch pauses and points directly at me. “Some of us more famous than others,” he adds.
The Mooch wants to make it clear that he will not allow himself to be cowed.
“At the end of the day, you have to remember that I grew up in a blue-collar family. There were no books in the house, and I got myself into Harvard Law School. So don’t forget, there’s probably something going on up there. Right? They were trying to disfigure me, like some Italian gangster, and I understand why they’d do that, but that’s going to be tough to do to a guy like me.”
Hypothetically speaking, if the Mooch and the president had a falling-out, what kind of presidential nickname could we expect the Mooch to be granted?
“That’s so funny,” he replies between chuckles. “How about Mouthy Mooch? I’ve gotta tell you something, and it’s something I’ve always said to the president. It’s an inside joke: ‘Thank G-d that you love me and I love you, because I would hate to hear what kind of nickname you’d come up with for me. The amount of psychotherapy I would need after seeing my nickname on your Twitter feed would be legendary.’”
The Mooch then reconsiders.
“Let me tell you something about these nicknames. It’s a signature piece from him. I don’t even think Mouthy Mooch would be good enough. It could be ‘Little Mouthy Mooch,’ because I’m a small guy. The president is the killer nicknamer.
“One of the funniest things that happened was when Bannon lost his last name. His last name is now ‘Steve,’ his first name is ‘Sloppy.’ What’s his last name? His last name is over.”
The Mooch on Fire
What does the Mooch make of all the president’s recent firings?
“You have to ask the president,” he says matter-of-factly.
“Well, I have asked the president,” I counter, “and he’s not telling me anything.”
“Okay, so I can only give you what I know based on his personality. He’s realizing that the players he’s got around the table with him need to be swapped out for people who really care about him and have his back. What happens to him is they say nice things about him to his face, and then when they walk out of the Oval, they snicker about him in these Georgetown salons. It’s inexcusable. I think he’s figured that out now, and he’s going to put people around him who really like him, people he trusts, who will help him execute his policies.”
But what happened to the Donald Trump of the campaign, the one who declared that he only hires the best people?
“You have to understand his personality. When he says he’ll build a golf course, he’ll hire golf course people. When he says he’s going to build a condo, he’ll hire condo people. Now he starts an administration and he goes out and hires government people. But some of those government people are swamp monsters, and you’re not going to drain the swamp with cesspool operators and swamp monsters.”
Is this to suggest that the president is learning on the job?
“I wouldn’t say it that way. He gave people the benefit of the doubt because he’s a good leader, and when they weren’t doing what he wanted, he got rid of them. In my case, you know, I got fired by a combination of him and Kelly.”
At this point I ask the question on the minds of many Americans right now. “They’re definitely bringing you back at some point once Kelly is gone. Correct?”
The Mooch lowers his voice and looks directly at me.“Are you hearing this?”
“We’re all hearing this,” I reply. “Are you denying it?”
“Have you heard the president saying this?” he asks, lowering his voice further.
“Anthony, you know the president doesn’t consult with me.”
“If he’s asked if I’m coming back, what does he say?”
“I’m sure he’d say, ‘You’ll see,’” I suggest. “Supposing he says that. What does that mean? What’s the takeaway?”
“Here’s what the takeaway is. Whether I’m working for him inside the White House or if I’m outside the White House as a friend, I’m very loyal to him. Okay? I’m not one of those guys who cuts and runs. I’m a very good foxhole guy.”
The Post About the Post
As the interview winds down, I ask the Mooch about his recently announced book deal.
“I’m gonna be writing about Donald Trump as the unconventional entrepreneurial president. There will be some insight into the president’s management style, his personality, and how he sees himself as a media mogul, TV star, real-estate developer, brand manager extraordinaire, and now as the American president.”
And what’s next for the Scaramucci Post, the media outlet that the Mooch is in the midst of launching?
“There’s going to be a major announcement in the coming weeks. The Scaramucci Post lives, and it’ll be true to what I originally wanted it to be.”
Will the Scaramucci Post apply for a seat in the White House press briefing room?
“Maybe. Not me personally, but maybe one of our journalists would. But let me tell you something. You know it’s going to be fun. It didn’t start out the way it should have, but we’ll fix it.”
Without being prompted, the Mooch immediately addresses the proverbial pink elephant in the room—the poll posted by the Scaramucci Post about the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, which drew harsh condemnation from many sources.
“Look, there was a misfiring on the whole Holocaust thing. My Orthodox [Jewish] partner on the Scaramucci Post was trying to raise awareness and obviously made a mistake; he’s a good guy, he just made a mistake. I feel bad about it, but I’m certainly not a Holocaust denier. I certainly wasn’t trying to curry favor with Holocaust deniers.
“That’s the thing that’s happening now. If you’ve got a voice, you’re articulate, you’re now a threat and they’re gonna smash you and two-dimensionalize you. It’s very hard to two-dimensionalize a guy like me because I keep on showing up. They want me to go in the corner and keep my mouth shut. But I’m not gonna do that.
“I’m never giving up. I’m not giving up my voice, and neither should you… You know why I’m a Zionist? I wanna explain to you why I’m a Zionist and don’t forget this. If you believe in the concept of individual liberty and personal freedom, by definition the Jews are avatars of all the world’s minorities.”
The Mooch breaks it down.
“How many Jews are there, 14 million? Take 14 million out of 7.3 billion. That’s a minority. Yet, as Jews, can you check a box at an Ivy League school? You’re a minority relative to the overall population, but you can’t check off a box as a minority.
“My point is, at the end of the day I’m not a Jew, so I can look at it as a goy, from the outside. Anti-Semitism is based on jealousy. The Jewish culture has bred 5,000 years of success. That doesn’t mean every Jew is successful, but I’m talking about arts, science, music, culture, politics, literature. Pick anything that requires intellectual capital and the Jews have prospered. I’ve been to some of these yeshivahs—I’ve just been to Sderot, where this beautiful yeshivah has been bomb-sheltered; the Jews prosper because they have a culture that seeks excellence in academia and human capital. This has led to an enormous amount of wealth, stature and influence. And there’s jealousy.
“Jews are a minority but are unbelievably successful, and if you don’t protect them, they’re the first domino to fall in tyranny-for-all. I say, be proud of who you are. ”
When it comes to anti-Semitism, the Mooch adamantly defends the president.
“The president is the least racist person that I know. He’s the least anti-Semitic person that I know. Anyone saying he’s an anti-Semite is ridiculous. There are mezuzahs in the West Wing, on Jared’s door, on Ivanka’s door. The president’s daughter is raising his Orthodox grandchildren. He’s moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Does this look anti-Semitic? Doesn’t look anti-Semitic to me. He doesn’t sugarcoat things. He’s not politically correct. But he’s not a racist. This guy treats everybody the same.”
Yiddish and Nachas
“You’ve got beautiful kids, by the way,” the Mooch remarks quite randomly, referring to a recent event where he met my family.
“Thank you,” I say, “and your sensitivity toward them, especially the way you got down on one knee and spoke to them on their level, was very impressive.”
“Of course. I’ve got kids too, man.”
“Yeah, but not always would I expect someone who’s a close advisor to the president of the United States—”
“Get out of here,” he interrupts. “When I was at Tufts University, I took a course called Introduction to Yiddish Literature. The subtitle was ‘From the Shtetl to Suburbia.’ I know Yiddish better than most goyim. All right? I know the difference between nachas and kavod, between yichus and mishpachah. You think the Italians and the Jews are that dissimilar? You’re going to be dead way longer than you’re going to be alive. Focus on your family and take care of the people you love.”
Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci blows one of his legendary kisses and heads for the door.
After the interview, I came across the Mooch and his wife at a Jewish function where he was being honored. I decided to ask him a question I hadn’t felt comfortable asking during the interview.
“I recently saw an interview you did where one of the panelists laughed at the fact that you were only at your post for 11 days. Do you remember what you responded?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he replies. “I said, ‘You could look at it like it was 952,000 seconds.’”
“Exactly. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but is it possible that you took that, like, from me?”
“Yep. I did take it from you. I’ve been using it all the time.”
Okay, so I wasn’t being paranoid after all. Good to know.
At this point his wife remarks, “All of his best jokes come from me, and I never get credit for them. Get used to it.”