Anthony Scaramucci was almost finished with one of his three Sunday television talk show appearances when he started speaking directly to one particular viewer at home.
“If I said some things about him when I was working for another candidate, Mr Trump, Mr President, I apologise for that. Can we move on off of that?” Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, said on CNN’s State of the Union show. “I know you and I have moved on off of that,” he added, before commenting that the host, Jake Tapper, “hasn’t moved on off of that, obviously”.
Tapper laughed. Scaramucci continued. “I’m going to be working for you,” he told the president via television. “And I’m going to serve the American people. And we’re going to get your agenda out into the heartland, where it belongs.”
Tapper replied: “I love how you’re talking to one specific viewer right now.”
Scaramucci, the hedge fund investor-turned-message strategist, went on his first official television outing on Sunday. It was an unusually high-stakes rollout for a communications director, because Scaramucci knew his boss would be taking notes. And it came the weekend before Trump’s son and son-in-law were scheduled to appear before congressional committees investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Trump almost single-handedly engineered a shake-up of his communications staff last week, excluding even his chief of staff, Reince Priebus. Those discussions were among the few issues, big and small, in the West Wing that never leaked.
On the talk shows, there was little by way of detailed discussion of Trump’s agenda, perhaps a product of Scaramucci’s recent arrival in the role – which perhaps also explained a contradictory message aired on Sunday. Regarding the new Russian sanctions legislation agreed to by House and Senate conferees, Scaramucci said the president had not yet made up his mind about signing them, a statement that was at odds with one by the new press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“My bad,” Scaramucci told a New York Times reporter, taking ownership of his remark and apparently rejecting a round of on-background quotes from other White House aides insisting that he had said the same thing as Sanders.
But he tossed out superlatives and soaked Trump’s image in sunny optimism, describing the president’s tenure as misunderstood by the press corps. He made clear he will not try to change Trump, as other aides have tried. “He’s a wear-his-heart-on-his-sleeve kind of person,” Scaramucci said on Fox News Sunday in describing Trump. And he focused on the issue that has consumed Trump for six months – ending the leaks from his West Wing staff, and threatening to fire people if the leaks continued.
Others who have gone on television to deliver Trump’s message – Sanders, her predecessor, Sean Spicer, and Priebus – have deferred their views and personalities in the service of Trump. Spicer in particular struggled to please a boss he never understood well, and whose trust he did not have.
By contrast, Scaramucci – a political donor and television talking head, and affably affluent with an accent held over from his native Long Island – toggled between subordinating to Trump and maintaining a hint of his own appeal.
He said Donald Trump Jr, who had a meeting with Russian officials in June 2016 after they promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, had got “bad advice” on dealing with the initial New York Times story disclosing the meeting. “And now we have an auditorium of Russians that he was speaking to,” Scaramucci said of the meeting’s attendance list, which went from being described as five people to eight.
After apologising to the elder Trump – something he did in the White House briefing room on Friday – he said there was nothing wrong with disagreements.
“I’m a New Yorker, he’s a New Yorker, we’re allowed to go at it a little bit,” Scaramucci added, when pressed by the host, Chris Wallace, about his criticisms of Trump the candidate before he joined the Trump team.
Asked by Tapper if he would have met with a Russian lawyer to receive potentially harmful material on Clinton, Scaramucci offered what he said was an honest answer.
“Since I went to Harvard Law School, I probably would have asked a few people,” he said. “And somebody probably would have said to me, ‘You know, get a cut-out to go take the meeting and see if there is any legitimacy to it,’” he added, referring to a practice of using intermediaries. He also swiftly defended the younger Trump, one of his friends, whom he said did nothing wrong.
At times, Scaramucci seemed to channel the elder Trump more instinctively as he batted back questions about his own past statements and Twitter posts. “That’s a ridiculous Washington sort of narrative,” said Scaramucci, who is deleting his old Twitter posts.
John Dickerson of the CBS programme Face the Nation bluntly asked Scaramucci if Trump would get what he wanted in repealing and replacing president Barack Obama’s signature healthcare legislation.
“I don’t know if he’s going to get what he wants next week, but he’s going to get what he wants eventually, because this guy always gets what he wants,” Scaramucci said. “OK?”
©2017 New York Times New Service