Return to Transcripts main page


Anthony Scaramucci Resigns. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 31, 2017 - 16:30   ET



SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's something that is vital to our economy and something certainly the administration is very focused on and has been. And we will continue working both with the House and Senate, as well as members of the administration.

We're cutting a little close on time. Thanks so much, guys.


QUESTION: Why was the president joke about police brutality, Sarah? Why would the president joke about police brutality? That's not a joking matter.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That was Sarah Huckabee Sanders giving the White House press briefing, the first such briefing since the latest massive shakeup, the shakeup of the shakeup, if you will.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders commenting on the sudden departure of former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, saying President Trump found Scaramucci's comments in that foul-mouthed interview last week in "The New Yorker" -- quote -- "inappropriate."

She wouldn't go into what exactly was inappropriate about it. It was pointed out that President Trump is known to employ salty language time and again.

I'm joined now by our White House team, Jeff Zeleny. Jim Acosta is in the Briefing Room. Here with me in the studio me is Kaitlan Collins.

Zeleny, let me go to you first.

A bit more from the press secretary on the latest major exit in the West Wing.

But correct me if I'm wrong. Wasn't she saying last week after that "New Yorker" interview came out, wasn't she saying essentially that it wasn't a big deal at all?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: She was, Jake, and that shows you what's changed.

And the one thing that's changed is the man who has the office in the corner of the West Wing, John Kelly, the new chief of staff. That is the thing that led to Anthony Scaramucci's dismissal from the White House.

But, Jake, I think -- I was struck by that Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not close the door to him getting another job in the government. She said he does not have a role at this time. So, he came to the White House from the Export/Import Bank, which is a small sort of subsidiary of the government that handles foreign loans and things.

He could go back there. He could go elsewhere. So, I thought she left that sort of hanging out there. But she also said that Sean Spicer will not be coming back. She said she has not heard any new information on that at this point.

That had been sort of discussed by some corners here. And Sean Spicer, who, of course, resigned as press secretary, he was fueling that by not answering reporters' questions earlier today. She seemed to close the door on that.

But, Jake, what she did not do is say specifically the president found inappropriate or why he had a change of heart. From what we know, he gave his approval to those comments last week. And today, of course, he was out, but John Kelly, the new chief of staff, is the one intervening factor, Jake.

TAPPER: Jim Acosta, "The Wall Street Journal" reported that, in fact, President Trump was put off by the fact that Reince Priebus did not respond in kind after Anthony Scaramucci trashed him to "The New Yorker."

Now we're told that President Trump found the comments inappropriate. It does seem to be more driven by General Kelly, the chief of staff, I would think.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think so, Jake, but again this is a day of contradictions and chaos here at the White House.

The White House press secretary -- or the incoming White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, did not want to acknowledge there is chaos in the staff here at the White House. That seems to be something akin to denying that the sky is blue. Obviously, the staff is in chaos here at the White House.

She said, well, if you want to see chaos, you can come over and see how my kids play at the house.

My suspicion, Jake, is that her children behave better than some of the officials do here inside this White House when they're engaging in this sort of factional bickering that we see all the time.

I will tell you, I thought another thing that was interesting here,, this was very much a briefing where I think the White House was making it clear they are showing Anthony Scaramucci the door. She was asked during this briefing whether Scaramucci will be working at the Export/Import Bank, and she said no. That is not the expectation here at the White House. And, Jake, I can tell you, I talked to a friend of Anthony Scaramucci

who said he had spoken with Scaramucci earlier this afternoon, who said that the Mooch had intended to show up for work at the Export/Import Bank promptly at 9:00 tomorrow morning. Evidently, that is no longer going to be necessary.

And I think lastly, Jake, I think, as one story ends, another story begins. I thought it was quite striking here that Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president of the United States was joking about police officers roughing up suspects at that event that he held last Friday.

You will recall the president talking about that during that speech going after undocumented gangs and so forth. The president made some remarks about roughing up police suspects. During this press briefing here, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the president was just joking there, which, of course, begs the question, how is it at all appropriate for the president of the United States to be joking about police brutality, Jake?


TAPPER: And those answers were condemned by many police organizations.

Jim Acosta, thanks.

Kaitlan Collins is here in studio with me.

Kaitlan, tell me, what are your sources telling you about General Kelly, when he made this decision, why he made this decision?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We didn't hear a lot of ticktock just there from Sarah Sanders. She refused to comment on conversations the president had with John Kelly and how this all came about.

So, we know from all this is just from our sources that are in the White House. And we're told that this is something John Kelly had discussed over the weekend, getting rid of Anthony Scaramucci after that "New Yorker" interview last week, but he didn't make the final decision to ask him to step aside until right before he was sworn in this morning.

We saw Anthony Scaramucci was in the Oval Office for his swearing-in, as was much of the White House staff. But I think it really shows how much weight John Kelly truly does have right now in this White House, because last week after the feud between Anthony Scaramucci and Reince Priebus became really clear, Sarah Sanders defended it, saying that the president likes healthy competition among his staff.

And then today, she said the president thought Anthony Scaramucci's comments were not appropriate. So, those two don't really go together. It seems like John Kelly must have weighed in. And that's what led to all of this changing their mind.

TAPPER: All right, thank you so much.

I'm joined now by other members of our CNN political team, Gloria Borger, Mark Preston, and David Chalian joining me from New York.

Gloria, I want to start with you.

What are your sources telling you about how this decision was made, presumably by John Kelly, the retired Marine general and new White House chief of staff?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I was told by one source close to the White House that General Kelly made this decision two to three days ago.

I was just told by another source that Kelly decided it had to happen, and another source said that the president spoke with someone close to him about it, asking his opinion, and the president was advised that, yes, Scaramucci had gotten too far out front.

I think the general feeling was that the vulgarity was unacceptable, and also there is one more part of this. This one source just said to me, he said, Anthony was grandstanding, and with the president you end up in the cheap seats in center field when you do that.

No star can shine brighter, to use another metaphor, than the president in this White House, and I think the president felt he was getting way too far out front.

TAPPER: Mark Preston, Anthony Scaramucci was brought in two Fridays ago with a lot of pomp and circumstance, Sean Spicer on his way out, Anthony Scaramucci on his way in, against the wishes, we should point out, of senior strategist Steve Bannon and then Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

And now, of course, 10 days later, Priebus is gone, but so is Scaramucci. What is your reaction?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, I mean, look, the bottom line is that Scaramucci got way out in front of his skis on this.

When you are the communications director for the White House, Jake, as you know, you're supposed to be behind the scenes. You're not somebody who is supposed to go out and overshadow your principal, in this case, the president. And that's what we saw from Scaramucci.

What's interesting, too, is that when the general was chosen to be the chief of staff, you have to wonder what conditions were put on his acceptance. And from Gloria's reporting, the fact this was made two or three days ago, was that part of his conditions, that he could fire anyone that he needed in order to create his own team in the West Wing?

And I think what we're seeing right now is that that's the case. A very good ally and close ally of the general explained this to me. He said, listen, he's a no-B.S. kind of guy. He's a very serious kind of guy. He realized that Anthony Scaramucci was not the person that needed to be not only crafting the message, but should not be delivering the message.

TAPPER: And, David Chalian, one of the things that's interesting, of course, is Sarah Huckabee Sanders just saying that everyone, everyone reports to General Kelly, including she was specifically asked about Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.

One of the problems that has existed at the White House, according to people who work there or have worked there, is that there were basically three chiefs of staff, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner and formerly Reince Priebus. And it was difficult to get any decision made because one person would sign off and the other two would be against it, and there was fierce competition between these three centers of power.

Now we're told that's gone, General Kelly is the person who reports to the president, everyone else reports to General Kelly. I guess we will see if that actually happens.


I think this is -- as we discussed on Friday, Jake, when this all happened, I think we are still in this waiting to see moment, because it looks like right now that Donald Trump is giving General Kelly all the tools and latitude he needs to really get up and running in this role, to really to instill some discipline. This is one way to do that.


But think about everything you understand about the way the Trump Organization is run, everything we have seen about Donald Trump's behavior as president these last six months. The idea that Ivanka Trump is not going to be able to talk to her father directly and walk into the Oval Office, it just seems a little -- it strains credulity, I think.

I think what we have to do is sort of wait and see. Can Kelly put in this kind of structure, but still Donald Trump getting the streams of information that he relies on?

I also find it was worth noting in the briefing, Jake, that Jeff Sessions got a 100 percent confidence boost from Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The attorney general has been twisting in the wind. Sarah Huckabee Sanders says the president has 100 percent confidence in every one of his Cabinet members. That's the first sort of attaboy Jeff Sessions has gotten in two weeks.

TAPPER: Gloria, let me play, if not devil's advocate, Scaramucci's advocate for one second.

This is somebody who has wanted to work for the administration for a long time. He has been promised a number of jobs, turned down here and there. He's been at the Export/Import Bank. He's given up a lot of money, sold his business. Obviously, there are great personal sacrifices as well. He finally gets appointed communications director. He comes out. He says he wants to improve relationships with the

press. He does take steps to improve relationships with the press, tangible steps, including returning the televised briefing, which we're now all taking for granted, but for more than a month, it was off the table.

He professed his love and affection for the president many times, defended the president, was a fierce advocate. And, yes, there was infighting, but, really, is somebody who goes to work for President Trump supposed to think that he doesn't like infighting, that he doesn't like competition?

From Anthony Scaramucci's point of view, with the exception of the "New Yorker" interview, he did everything right. Tell me why I'm wrong. That was a little -- we're playing a little game here, a little exercise.

BORGER: Well, I think in the end, all the things you point out are true, but, in the end, Anthony Scaramucci destroyed himself. I think it was his hubris in coming in.

And remember, Jake, it was just, what, over a week ago, maybe two weeks ago, where we said, myself included, how smooth he was, and how non-adversarial he was at that first briefing, and we all thought it was really impressive, actually.

But then he got ahead of himself and talked about firing people. And let's even put the vulgarity aside, which is hard to do, but he got out ahead of whatever chief of staff was in there, boasting about his direct access to the president, talking openly about heads that would roll and talking openly about which heads would roll in particular, who happened to be two very important people at the White House.

And it was unsustainable because it injected a degree of instability into the White House that clearly a new chief of staff coming in, particularly one with four stars on his shoulder, would probably not be able to live with.

And I'm sure that Kelly had a conversation with the president about it and made that clear. So, in a way, if Scaramucci had stopped -- and, you know, this is hindsight, of course, but with that first briefing, and where he claimed that he and Priebus could work together, et cetera, et cetera, that would have been fine.

But then he got a little full of himself. And I think, when he went overboard, he self-destructed.

TAPPER: Everyone, thank you so much.

We obviously have much more to discuss in this breaking news on the White House shakeup. We're getting new information about General Kelly's response to when James Comey was fired by President Trump. You might remember General Kelly until this morning was the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Stick around. We have much more. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continuing with politics, we're getting new information about the new Chief of Staff John Kelly and his response after FBI Director James Comey had been fired. I want to bring in CNN Justice Correspondent Pamela Brown. Pamela, John Kelly, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary, now White House Chief of Staff, this is fascinating. Tell us the story.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So my colleague Shimon Prokupecz and I have learned that incoming White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was so upset with the way President Donald Trump handled the firing of FBI Director James Comey last - this past May that he called Comey shortly after he was terminated to tell him how angry he was. This is according to two sources familiar with this conversation between Kelly and Comey. One of the sources said Kelly was simply disgusted by the way it all was handled. And at the time Kelly, as you pointed out, was Secretary of Homeland Security, and he was so angry that he even told Comey he was contemplating resigning from his position as Homeland Security Secretary in a show of solidarity.

Comey responded by telling him not to resign during this phone conversation. Both sources did caution, though, that it was unclear how serious Kelly really was about resigning, and of course, that never happened. But the sources say he was particularly upset by the way it all went down by the fact that Comey learned he was fired on the news rather than by the President himself. And the call took place, we learned, while Comey was traveling back from Los Angeles to Washington on May 9th again, after learning about it on the news. For context, Jake, the sources said that Comey and Kelly are not particularly close friends but that they had a professional relationship and a deep mutual respect for each other. Comey declined to comment to us about the story, the White House and DHS did not comment. Jake?

[16:50:08] TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown, thank you so much for that excellent reporting. I'm joined now by my political panel. Paris, let me start with you. This news that now Chief of Staff Kelly was so upset - disgusted was the word with how Comey was treated by President Trump, that he reached out and offered a sympathy and even - we don't know how serious this was - said that maybe he would resign in protest. Do you think that if President Trump had known that, that that might have been a strike against him?

PARIS DENNARD, CNN COMMENTATOR: No. I think what it shows is that the President has confidence in somebody who's a strong leader. I think he views the general as his peer and I think he knows that the general is someone who is loyal, who knows battle, he knows battle tactics. He is someone who understands that you got to come in and have ordered at the time of battle and order in that White House. And so, I think he would appreciate the fact that this is a person who understands respect and respect for authority and respect for leadership. And so, I don't think here that any change in his opinion on having somebody of General Kelly's capacity coming in there to hit the six-month reset button in that west wing. TAPPER: Robby, what do you make of General Kelly doing this? This is a pretty bold step to fire, essentially, is what it was - whether he resigned or not - to fire somebody that just came on board 10 days ago to shake things up? And essentially, by the way, shook things up in a way that offered Kelly the job, the opportunity he has, and his first response is to fire Scaramucci.

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, it was the right move, clearly. I mean, Scaramucci was not going to be a successful Communications Director, that's clear. What's going to be interesting to watch is Donald Trump - rather, Anthony Scaramucci was Donald Trump's id incarnate. You know what I mean? I mean, this was just pure unfiltered Donald Trump. The hiring of Kelly and the firing Scaramucci is now the ego putting that into check but what we've seen on this President over and over again is he always goes back to that id, he always goes back to those animal instincts.

I don't see how over more than three years, we're not going to see another cycle of this. On the campaign, he went through what, three campaign managers? And we were just here a week ago talking about Scaramucci and he said the one thing you can't do with President Trump is upstage him. Scaramucci went there and he was gone. I find this little anecdote about the FBI Director very interesting because this is the sort of thing Trump hears and it may be you know, one count against Kelly and then he goes back to his old habits.

TAPPER: This was the story that broke on CNN just before the news about Scaramucci. Mary Katharine, just a few days ago, the White House was singing a completely different song about that New Yorker interview in which Scaramucci went on this profanity-laced tirade about Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus. Here's what Sarah Huckabee had to say. I think it was Thursday, take a listen.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know, I don't know if he has an opinion of what they should do between the two of them. I think the President, as always, enjoys healthy competition and conversation, and he sees that as such.


TAPPER: So, you know, the nastiness - the nasty thoughts expressed in that story, just healthy competition. Here's Sarah Huckabee today.


SANDERS: The President certainly felt that Anthony's comments were inappropriate for a person in that position and he didn't want to burden General Kelly also with that line of succession. As I think we made clear a few times -


TAPPER: Now, in Sarah's defense, it's possible that President Trump changed his mind. He is known to do that, but that is a complete contradiction.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST SENIOR WRITER: Yes. I think that she's telegraphing there with the burdening General Kelly. That - and it seems like to me that Kelly is the one who had a problem with this way of doing business, and he may have a problem with that way of doing business in general. As we see with perhaps this discussion of Comey and the fact that he didn't like the way that went down. He's a person of professionalism and skill and duty, and he's been in the Marine Corps for a long time, so he's going to do things in a very different way from the Trump White House. I think normally the White House Chief of Staff runs the White House. To paraphrase the old joke in the Trump White House, the White House runs you and I think General John Kelly is much less likely to be run than perhaps Reince Priebus was. The question is whether Trump actually wants him to be in charge of this process.

DENNARD: Going back to a point that she made. You're very right, the President does have that instinct. The one thing about his instincts, he always puts in the right person at the right time. Corey was the right person at the right time to run the campaign up until a certain point, then he brought in Manafort to get him to the convention, then he brought in Kellyanne Conway to get him across the finish line to win.

He needed somebody like Reince Priebus to come in, an establishment person, he knew the Hill, he knew the donors, he knew the party base, but he wasn't unable to get him across the finish line with big legislative win, so he brings in, trusting his instincts, John Kelly to come in and set the order. But I've also think - I have no way of proving this - but I also think Scaramucci came in for the right time to set the tone. Three people left, three big names left that White House, leaks would not be tolerated. Scaramucci came in, three people left, General Kelly came in and the reorder is going to happen.


[10:55:12] MOOK: And just so I'm clear, I don't think the President's instincts are good, I think they're mean-hearted, I think they're dangerous and I think you're going to see them rear their ugly head again, so just to be clear, I never said the President has good instincts though. I don't - what I think is this last week is an example of how terrible his instincts are and we will see it again.

DENNARD: Well, I think the American people disagree with that.

HAM: I think - I think that look, yes, maybe Scaramucci was clearing the ice. So he was the Zamboni, he and came in and took care of that, and then he put John Kelly in his place to have a different tone. If Scaramucci leaving is a sign of Kelly ascending, I think that is a fairly good sign. The question is, to me, whether Trump actually ultimately listens to somebody who he believes is an alpha and who believe he's on his level. Does he want to listen to someone like that? Never before has he really.

TAPPER: So, until today, there were three Chief of Staff essentially. There was the actual Chief of Staff Reince Priebus until he resigned Friday. And then there was Steve Bannon who was the power center on to himself and then Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump who are also a power center unto themselves and different factions within those three tent poles. Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon were very much opposed to Scaramucci coming on board, and it's been reported that he was pushed by Jared Kushner. That Kushner and Ivanka Trump thought that this was a good idea to bring in Scaramucci. Scaramucci coming in got rid of Sean Spicer and got rid of Reince Priebus. Is it possible - not to be (INAUDIBLE) about this -- but is it possible that that really was Scaramucci's role, to get those two out on behalf of the people who brought him in, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump?

MOOK: I think that's what the White House would like you to believe because that sounds semi-sane and calculated. I think this is exactly what it looks like from the surface. I think the President made a knee jerk decision to bring in Scaramucci based on his children advice or whatever. We also saw tweet from the airplane about the transgender policy which clearly was just a knee jerk situation as well. And then he had somebody who I think right now he respects very much who came in and said, to do this job right, I need to let this person go. And at the same time, Scaramucci had been out there and probably had gotten a little bit ahead of himself so I do not - I think it's very dangerous for us to assign any more strategy or calculation to this than there actually was.

HAM: Well, I have a question, too, about Kelly's style who is not going to be Mr. Drama, he's not going to be out front. And the interesting thing about Trump is that he does want to see his people on TV but he doesn't want to be overshadowed. You have to walk this line, Scaramucci did not walk it successfully but Kelly is not going to be out in front, and I wonder if that makes him lose some currency.

TAPPER: Another question I have has to do with Scaramucci, and I want to defend Scaramucci for a second, Paris, as I did earlier. This guy came in after being loyal to the President for a long time, going on shows and defending him. He was waiting for a job. He finally got one at the export/import bank. Not what he was - he was promised a whole bunch of others. Finally he gets a job at the White House, a great personal sacrifice, a great financial sacrifice, he comes in, he does what he thinks he's supposed to be doing, which is defend the president, saying he's going to smooth over relations with the press, which he does to an extent. And then, in addition, he throws some elbows, and guess what? This is already a place with a lot of elbows being thrown. Is it possible that he thought he was just doing what he needed to do and is completely stunned by this?

DENNARD: I think - I think, one correction, he actually came in and was head of OPL for - briefly, liaison, so he had one position. But I think he came in doing what he thought to be right, doing what he thought for the president want, but he might have taken it just a bit too far. Some of the colorful language, the President and - said that - Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump might have also found that a little bit inappropriate, so I think that he did not realize that you're now at the White House. It's a different bar, it's not New York, and while that might have worked in years past, it no longer works right now and there is a repercussion for your action. And the President allowed General Kelly to come in and have the latitude as the new Chief of Staff to set the standard that that just won't be tolerated in this new White House.

TAPPER: Robby, let me ask you, this is the President who has on that Access Hollywood Tape said some pretty graphic things. And what Scaramucci said about Steve Bannon was a figure of speech. What President Trump said on that Access Hollywood Tape was not a figure of speech, neither of them can I quote right now. Do you think he was offended?

MOOK: Look, I don't believe most of what these folks say anymore. I mean that like honestly, I'm not - that's not sort of partisan rhetoric. It's just at so many junctures throughout this entire episode of the campaign and out here, they don't tell the truth. So I think it's just an excuse for him to pay for this sober but I don't believe that.

TAPPER: Great panel, I got to go. We got six seconds left. Paris thank you much, Mary Katharine, Robby, I appreciate it. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper or tweet the show @theleadcnn. Join us tonight for a special prime time edition of THE LEAD at 10:00 tonight. That's it, handing it over to Wolf Blitzer. Thanks for watching.