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Is There Method to Anthony Scaramucci's Madness?

New White House enforcer abuses Bannon and Priebus and meets with Sessions—it looks like a massive power play.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

I’m not sure how many more days like Thursday this country can take. The most important event was the defeat of the “skinny repeal” bill in the Senate — which actually happened in the wee hours of Friday morning — with Sen. John McCain casting a dramatic “no” vote to scuttle Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare one more time. Perhaps President Trump has learned that openly insulting people you need to support you isn’t really such a great political tactic. (Nah.)

That brings us to the other big Trump administration story, revolving around new communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who imploded on CNN  after having first exploded at New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza. The whole thing started with a tweet on Wednesday in which Scaramucci claimed he had gone to the FBI because someone had leaked his financial disclosure forms and strongly suggested that someone was White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Shortly thereafter, a Department of Justice spokesperson issued a bizarre late-night statement agreeing with “Anthony” suggesting that he or someone else high in the government had requested it.

As it turned out, the financial disclosure forms were not leaked at all; they were public information. Scaramucci deleted his threatening tweet.

What happened the next morning was next-level crazy. Lizza appeared on CNN as he often does and Scaramucci called in and confirmed that he’d spoken with Lizza the night before and then launched into a 30-minute stream of consciousness rant in which he said he wanted to “kill” White House leakers and that he was talking to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and some “buddies” in the FBI.

Later in the day Lizza published a bombshell piece in the New Yorker about the conversation he’d had with Scaramucci, which the latter apparently never said was off the record. It is amazing. Scaramucci called Reince Priebus a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic” and said, “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock. I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.” He claimed that Priebus had leaked his financial disclosure forms and also believed that he’d leaked his dinner plans with Sean Hannity and the president which seemed to inflame him.

According to Lizza he then said

“O.K., the Mooch showed up a week ago,” he said. “This is going to get cleaned up very shortly, O.K.? Because I nailed these guys. I’ve got digital fingerprints on everything they’ve done through the F.B.I. and the fucking Department of Justice.”

“What?” I interjected.

“Well, the felony, they’re gonna get prosecuted, probably, for the felony.” He added, “The lie detector starts—” but then he changed the subject and returned to what he thought was the illegal leak of his financial-disclosure forms.”

He sounds so ridiculous that it’s tempting to just laugh about it and move along. But according to the Daily Beast, this crusade against leakers has been ordered by the president. Trump is very angry that people are behaving in a way that he believes is disloyal and he wants them to be prosecuted. It is unclear if he and Scaramucci understand that there’s no law against telling a reporter that the president is having dinner with someone. Obviously Trump is entitled to fire a staffer for doing that (or for any other reason he wants) but only the leaking of classified information is a crime, and using law enforcement to try to ferret out which employees are talking to reporters about palace intrigue is blatantly illegal.

The Daily Beast also reported that the Justice Department confirmed that Sessions and Scaramucci spoke on Thursday morning, but the DOJ spokeswoman didn’t know what was discussed. Perhaps the timing is a coincidence, but consider that for the past couple of weeks the president has been complaining that he’s “disappointed” in Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. He’s trying to get Sessions to quit so that he can replace him and likely then fire special counsel Robert Mueller. He couldn’t be more obvious. (Here’s a good explainer from the Washington Post as to why Trump needs Sessions to quit rather than firing him.)

But Trump also has some specific complaints about the way Sessions is doing his job. He believes he should fire Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe (which is strange since Trump could fire McCabe himself if he chose) and he wants him to investigate James Comey and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, along with Hillary Clinton’s emails (again), her alleged contacts with Ukraine and various other loony charges. Trump also believes that Sessions has failed to pursue leakers. It would not be entirely surprising if Trump tasked his man Scaramucci to talk to Sessions about that.

This wouldn’t be the first time a Trump surrogate got some “FBI buddies” to do some dirty work for him. Recall that during the campaign Rudy Giuliani was coordinating intel with the New York FBI office, which may have resulted in Comey issuing his ill-fated letter to Congress 10 days before the election. In fact, just before he was fired, Comey indicated that the FBI was looking into that matter.

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson interviewed Sessions on Thursday night and he admitted that the president’s comments have been “hurtful” but says he doesn’t plan to quit. Sessions also went out of his way to flatter the president in obsequious fashion and promised he would announce some major news about leakers next week, promising that some would go to jail for their crimes. It’s not clear where he’s looking or whom he’s targeting, but it’s likely to be officials in the intelligence agencies, the FBI and the Department of Justice. Trump will no doubt be glad to hear this, but since he wants to end the Russia investigation first and foremost, it’s unlikely he’ll be appeased.

As for the president’s other demands, it appears they are moving along as well. As I predicted a while back, House Judiciary Committee Republicans on Thursday called for a new special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton, Comey and Lynch. Sessions made an earlier promise to recuse himself from any Clinton probe, but it’s unlikely he’ll make that mistake again.

Trump told Hillary Clinton during one of their campaign debates that if he were president she’d be in jail. Maybe he meant it after all. And if he has his way he’s going to start locking up other rivals and critics as well.

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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