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The Lingering Mystery of Anthony Scaramucci

The Atlantic logo The Atlantic 5/8/2019 Peter Nicholas
Anthony Scaramucci wearing a suit and tie © Evan Agostini / Invision / AP

LAS VEGAS—Nearly two years after his exile from the White House over a profane conversation with a reporter, Anthony Scaramucci considers whether he might ever return.

Would he want to go back?, I asked him in an interview on Tuesday afternoon. Would President Donald Trump even have him?

Sitting in his suite at the Bellagio Hotel, 29 floors above the Japanese botanical-garden display off the casino floor, Scaramucci beckoned his wife, Deidre. “She would say, if he offered me a job to go back, I would go back in two heartbeats. Right, honey?”

Deidre corrected him: “One heartbeat.”

Tempting though it may sound, a second act in the White House isn’t necessarily what he wants, Scaramucci says. But just what he wants isn’t so clear. Returning to the White House would offer a shot at redemption. He could prove his value to Trump and to the country. Show critics that the “Tony Soprano on the Potomac” stereotypes that sprung up during his brief star turn were wrong. Right now, he’s etched in history as a trivia question. (Who was the shortest-serving White House communications director? Answer: Anthony Scaramucci.) But private life has its own allure. He’s running his investment company, which he founded in 2005, and he’s salvaged his marriage, which was at risk of unraveling had he stayed in the West Wing. Looking at it one way, why chuck it to go back to the swamp? Looking at it another …

Most White House staffers are invisible. Not Scaramucci. In July 2017, he took the communications job vowing to fire leakers who were dishing stories to the press about bottomless White House intrigue. Eleven days later, he was the one who got the boot. Then–White House Chief of Staff John Kelly banished him from the building—and it’s apparently a good thing for the Scaramucci family that he did.

“I don’t know if [Scaramucci] realizes this, but that was a blessing in disguise,” Deidre said, after scooching into her husband’s chair. “He likes to say that we would be—and I hope that we would be—but I’m not sure that we would still be together if he continued to work there, because I feel it’s so dysfunctional and it carries this whole cloud around it.”

[Read: The spectacular self-destruction of Anthony Scaramucci]

Their marriage had become tabloid fodder. He hadn’t told Deidre that he would be taking the White House job, a consuming time commitment. When she gave birth to the couple’s son, Scaramucci wasn’t there; he was traveling with Trump to a speech in West Virginia. She was reported to have filed for divorce. They reconciled after he left the job.

In their hotel suite, the couple agreed to a photograph as they sat together on the chair, hands clasped. Scaramucci quickly ran a hand through his hair.

“Look, we almost got divorced through this fiasco,” he said.

“We’re happy to be here to take the picture,” Deidre offered.

a woman sitting next to a window: Peter Nicholas / The Atlantic © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. Peter Nicholas / The Atlantic

Trump and Scaramucci, too, seem to have reconciled. A few days after his departure, Trump called his former aide to check on him. “I told Trump he made me as famous as Melania and Ivanka—and I didn’t have to sleep with him or be his daughter,” Scaramucci said. “He laughed. The second time I said to him, he sort of ignored it.” Deidre jumped in: “Well, that joke only goes so far.”

The couple is in town this week for Scaramucci’s annual SALT Conference, a gathering of A-list figures in business, policy, and politics that his investment firm, SkyBridge Capital, has put on for the past 10 years. The likes of former Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Colin Powell have appeared at past conferences. This year’s speakers include some alumni from Barack Obama’s administration—the former senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and ex–CIA Director David Petraeus—as well as a few bloodied casualties from the Trump era. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was tormented by the president on Twitter until he was fired last year, is signed up for a panel called “Inside Out: The Past, Present, and Future of Trump.” Also on the panel: former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was unceremoniously dumped as the head of Trump’s presidential transition shortly after the 2016 election.

And Scaramucci will moderate a discussion with John Kelly. That’s right: Kelly. That looked to be awkward, given their history. When Kelly was ousted as chief of staff in December, Scaramucci told CNN that the retired Marine general had been a bad fit for the job. “He didn’t have the right personality to deal with President Trump,” he said at the time, adding that Kelly’s method of firing him—speedy, without letting him save face—was wrong.

But the animosity subsided. After he invited Kelly to speak at the conference, they met for a three-hour lunch in February in Scaramucci’s office. Face to face, Scaramucci said, he owned up to his mistake, the one that got him fired. In a phone call with the then–New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza, five days into the job, Scaramucci had railed against internal White House rivals in coarse terms. But he had also risked upstaging Trump—something the president won’t tolerate. Communications directors normally operate behind the scenes, planning long-range strategy. Scaramucci held a much-publicized news conference in the press briefing room his first day on the job. And he warned of firings that are normally the chief of staff’s responsibility.

“There are leakers in the [communications] shop,” he told reporters at one point. “There are leakers everywhere. And the leaking is atrocious. It is outrageous; it is unpatriotic. It damages the president personally, it damages the institution of the presidency, and I don’t like it.”

At the lunch, Kelly had mentioned his own frustrations as he sought to impose order on a chaotic White House, Scaramucci said. They found they had something in common: Both were magnets for crappy press.

“He said to me, and I had empathy for him, that there were probably 1,200 articles written about him during his tenure in the White House and probably less than 10 of them were positive,” Scaramucci said. “I was only in the hot seat for 11 days, but I got more press than O. J. Simpson. It was brutal. What can I tell you?”

[Read: Anthony Scaramucci is the right answer to the wrong question]

Yet for all the tumult, he seems to miss it. Scaramucci is still in touch with Trump. He left a message for the president during the Easter holiday and Trump returned the call. The president told him he wasn’t happy about an op-ed Scaramucci had written a week earlier objecting to Trump’s attacks on the press. “I said, ‘This is how I feel,’” Scaramucci recalled. Trump made a comment that suggested the press criticism was popular with his core voters. “And he said, ‘Well, I’m more worried about the base, and the moderates and independents will take care of themselves.’”

“I’m not going to agree with him on everything,” Scaramucci added. “He may not like me as much as he used to, but that’s fine. I’ve been loyal to him, and I haven’t broken ranks.”

Still, he sees spots of weakness in the president’s approach to the next election, though he believes Trump is the favorite to win. For one, given the strength of the economy, Trump’s poll numbers should be higher, he said, echoing a common critique of the president. A Gallup poll from the end of April showed Trump’s approval rating at 46 percent. Trump should stop talking about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and drop plans to “investigate the investigators,” Scaramucci said—no small feat, given Trump’s ongoing obsession with the inquiry. Better to focus on infrastructure and education bills before the election.

Does Trump have aides in place willing to tell him hard truths about what he should do and what’s going wrong? If he did, Deidre said, it wouldn’t make a difference. “He could have George Washington in his Cabinet, but it’s not going to matter, because he’s not going to listen,” she said.

If he never returns to the West Wing, Scaramucci said he won’t feel he’ll have missed out, even if it’s true that he’d need only a heartbeat to respond to Trump’s summons. He suggested, with pride, that he made it this far by dint of his own hard work and savvy. In a nod to his alma mater, he noted, “There’s no Harvard Law library named after my dad.” He’s co–managing partner of an investment firm, and he’s maestro of a popular conference. And his 11 days in the White House will remain immortalized in Mooch, a documentary about his life.

He’s famous, I said.

“Accidentally famous,” Scaramucci said.

“I like to say infamous,” Deidre said.

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