Arrivederci, Mooch – The story of Anthony Scaramucci

New White house Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci (R)), flanked by White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, blows a kiss to reporters after addressing the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S. July 21, 2017 Image copyright Reuters

Anthony Scaramucci was the shortest-serving White House communications director in history. What went wrong?

In the end, the Mooch got stabbed in the back.

Before even the late-night comedians could hone their impressions of the fast-talking, “front-stabbing” man from Long Island, before even his official start date as White House director of communications, Anthony Scaramucci felt the knife go in.

John Kelly, President Trump’s new White House chief of staff, called Mr Scaramucci into his office on Monday morning and, with the blessing of the president, cut him loose, 10 short days after he was given the job. Mr Scaramucci reportedly tried to phone Mr Trump, but the boss wasn’t available.

It was all just coming together for Mr Scaramucci. After six months on the outside, blocked by White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, he had finally got the nod – director of communications, reporting directly to the president.

A Wall Street hot-shot who graduated straight from Harvard law to Goldman Sachs and went on to start his own hedge fund, Mr Scaramucci was never short on ambition. “The only kid in high school who read the New York Times every Sunday,” said one former classmate.

Earlier this year, to smooth his path to the White House, Mr Scaramucci announced plans to sell his controlling $80m (£61m) stake in hedge fund SkyBridge Capital, and two weeks ago he pruned his Twitter history of inconvenient opinions on gun control, gay marriage and climate change.

“Full transparency: I’m deleting my old tweets,” he wrote, apparently without irony.

Image copyright Reuters

On Friday 21 July in his new job, Mr Scaramucci gave his first press conference. He paid tribute to outgoing press secretary Sean Spicer, who elected to resign rather than serve under his new boss. Mr Spicer was Mr Scaramucci’s first scalp, and the tribute could not have been more Mooch. “I wish him well and I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money,” he said.

The first few days were a whirlwind: a tour of the morning shows on Sunday, warning White House leakers that their days were numbered; a trip aboard Air Force One on Monday, while his estranged wife Deidre Ball gave birth to their second child in New York; a dinner at the White House on Wednesday with the president, Fox News host Sean Hannity and former Fox News executive Bill Shine, the details of which were immediately leaked to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza.

Then early on Thursday morning, Alisyn Camerota and Chris Cuomo, the hosts of CNN’s New Day programme were on the line with Mr Lizza discussing the leak when they got an unexpected call from a listener.

“Ryan, so sorry to interrupt you right now,” said Ms Camerota. “If you would stand by for a second that would be great because we actually have Anthony Scaramucci on the phone.”

‘The American dream on steroids’

The Mooch likes to talk about where he’s from. “One of the things I can’t stand about this town is the back-stabbing,” he told the BBC last week. “Where I grew up we’re front-stabbers.”

Front-stabville is Port Washington, a picture-perfect small town on Long Island, home to the very rich – it is the East Egg of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby – and to hard-working immigrant families with roots in various corners of Europe – “The American dream on steroids”, recalled another former classmate who grew up a few streets away from Mr Scaramucci.

The son of two Italian immigrants, Mr Scaramucci’s father Alexander worked for 42 years in the mines of Port Washington, quarrying the sand that went to Manhattan to build the buildings on Wall Street. His mother Mary was a stay-at-home mum.

The couple still live in the same, neatly-kept corner house where Mr Scaramucci was raised, just off Main Street. One block up the road, Mr Scaramucci’s maternal uncle Sal Defeo still sits out most days on the porch of his own ramshackle old house, selling leftover merchandise from his closed-down motorcycle store, Ghost Motorcycles.

Few people in Port Washington seemed excited by an old local’s sudden celebrity. Only one Trump bumper sticker was visible, and the owner, a lifelong Port Washington resident, had seen only one other locally, on a blue pickup that was occasionally parked around the place.

There were signs of the fierce family loyalty that Mr Scaramucci professes to share with his former boss, President Trump. With a glint in his eye and an obvious sense of humour, Mr Defeo, 90, switched between singing Mr Scaramucci’s praises and pretending not to know who he was.

He was more keen to talk about “Crooked Hillary”, and said he would put a handful of dirt out on the porch table if that’s what I was after. When he was told, sitting in his truck, that his nephew had just got the sack, he looked straight ahead and slowly rolled up the window.

A mile down the road, newspaper cuttings and pictures of Mr Scaramucci covered the walls of the auto glass shop owned by Mr Scaramucci’s cousin, Augie Defeo. On a large flat screen TV, news of the sudden sacking was playing out on Fox News. “Did Sal give you the bit about the dirt on the table?” asked Mr Defeo, and that was about all he wanted to say.

Image copyright Getty Images

Mr Scaramucci went to PD Schreiber High School, in the heart of Port Washington, with his older brother and younger sister. Former classmates and teachers remembered him as a driven boy, slick and popular, with a habit of referring to himself in the third person as “The Mooch”.

“He was always very political, he knew how to get things done with different groups,” said one teacher. “He was a very smooth character.”

A fellow 1982 graduate recalled a sharply dressed guy, quarter back in the football team, with “supreme confidence, right through high school”.

“The cool guy then was John Travolta, he was just about the most macho guy there was. And for me that was Anthony. He took on that Travolta, Italian-America swagger.”

Elected president of the student government, Mr Scaramucci showed flashes then of the man who would later lean on reporters to reveal their sources and advise CNN to be “nice to me in this segment”.

At one high school government meeting, he singled out the school newspaper editor over a critical editorial, telling him his “derogatory remarks” were “unnecessary” and making him stand up to defend himself. The meeting descended into chaos, and a letter printed on the front page of the paper took Mr Scaramucci to task.

“At a press conference, Ronald Reagan does not get up and defend himself against all editorials and columns written on how ineffective he or his government is,” it said.

Mr Scaramucci went on from Schreiber to study economics at Tufts, then to Harvard to study law. “He didn’t really fit the stereotypical Harvard model,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a fellow law student in the same section.

“His father was a construction worker and he had this strong New York accent. He made a very positive impression on me, he was a breath of fresh air. If he had the right-wing politics back then, I don’t remember them.”

He graduated from Harvard in 1989, about the time the Port Washington sand mines closed for good. “To the victor go the spoils,” his father Alexander wrote in his yearbook, and Mr Scaramucci headed straight for Wall Street.

On the record

“White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci joins us this morning,” said Chris Cuomo on CNN’s New Day. “Anthony Scaramucci, can you hear us?”

Mr Scaramucci had been in the job less than a week and he was already on the back foot. Live on CNN, he spoke directly to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, another Long Island native, whose father knew Mr Scaramucci’s father way back when.

He alluded to a conversation he’d had with Mr Lizza the night before, in which he had apparently pushed the New Yorker reporter to reveal his sources in the White House. “I was teasing you and it was sarcastic, it was one Italian to another,” said Mr Scaramucci.

Then the Mooch went on a half-hour tear against leakers, journalists and Washington political culture in general, while singing the president’s praises.

“Chris, you’re from New York, I’m from New York, the president is from New York. We had dinner last night. I sat next to the First Lady. I love the president.” He used the words “honour” and “respect” eight times each, and “dignity” four.

But Mr Scaramucci was taking on water. His phone conversation with Mr Lizza had been more colourful than he was letting on. In an unforgivable lapse for a communications director, he’d forgotten to say “off the record”. Later on Thursday, Mr Lizza published the full details.

The Mooch had demanded the reporter’s sources, before launching into a profane tirade in which he called White House chief of staff Reince Priebus a “paranoid schizophrenic” and threatened to “kill all the leakers”.

Mr Lizza’s account went viral. Mr Scaramucci went on the defensive. “I sometimes use colorful language,” he tweeted. “I will refrain in this arena but not give up the passionate fight for @realDonaldTrump’s agenda. #MAGA.”

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Media captionThe feud between Priebus and Scaramucci decoded

It wasn’t the first time Mr Scaramucci had to make a public apology. In 1980, not long after being appointed high school vice-president, he got in a fight with two school students he suspected of vandalising school property, later attacking them again.

He published a letter in the school paper, apologising for assaulting the other students. Directly above Mr Scaramucci’s apology, the paper printed an editorial titled “A Good Leader Is”.

“A leader is not expected to find solutions through violence or threats. A bully is not a leader,” it read, before going on to acknowledge that the school’s government was made up of “young leaders, all relatively inexperienced”.

“If a mistake is made, a Schreiber leader should learn from the experience, change his ways, and emerge as a stronger, more confident leader. If a leader does not learn from the experience, he should resign,” the editorial said.

President Trump was reportedly impressed by Mr Scaramucci’s colourful phonecall – he values loyalty above all – but later grew angry at the negative press coverage. He gave Mr Kelly the go-ahead to ask for his resignation. A few hours later, it leaked to the press.

The short history of the Trump administration tells us that comebacks are not off the cards. Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, pushed out after appearing to assault a reporter, is now back in the Trump orbit. Asked on Tuesday by the Huffington Post what he planned to do next, Mr Scaramucci said he would “go dark” for a while.

“Then I will re-emerge,” the Mooch said. “As me.”

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