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Anthony Scaramucci, Former White House Communications Director, speaking at the Turning Point High School Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
This article originally appeared [here on Salon.com]
"I'm out there trying to educate as many people as possible at the systemic danger that Mr. Trump represents to our democracy." Those were part of the opening words of my conversation earlier this week with former Trump White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci on "Salon Talks." And it went downhill from there for Trump.
I can't recall another presidential election where as many former officials from a White House administration and members of the president's own political party came out so vocally to defeat that very president. But then again, nothing has been normal in the time of Trump.
In our conversation, Scaramucci, a successful Wall Street investor, shared why he turned on Trump, citing events such as Trump's family separation policy and, finally, when Trump led the "Send her back" bigoted smear of the four Democratic female members of Congress known as "The Squad," saying they should go back to their own countries. As Scaramucci noted, this vile line of attack by Trump was personal for him; his own Italian grandparents heard the same hateful nativist comments when they first came to America.
The son of blue-collar parents who made it to Harvard Law School and onto the White House staff admitted he had been intoxicated in 2016 by Trump's celebrity status. Now Scaramucci wants to make amends for those past sins by leading the charge, along with other Republicans, to defeat Trump.
Some may never forgive Scaramucci and other Trump voters who helped elect him in the first place, but experts on authoritarianism will tell you that the key to saving a democracy is not just having an opposition party, but members of the wannabe fascist's own party standing up to him. Watch my conversation with Scaramucci or read a transcript of our chat below to hear more about his regrets around working for Trump, his continued relationships with General Kelly and Michael Cohen and why he's supporting Joe Biden.
Many know you as a successful Wall Street executive, entrepreneur, lawyer, author, founder of SkyBridge, and of course, for serving 11 days as Donald Trump's communications director in the White House in 2017.
That 11 days feels like it was like 500 years ago, Dean. Thank you for inviting me on.
In 2019, you made a famous break from Trump. You wrote an op-ed in of August 2019 for the Washington Post in which you wrote, "While it's difficult and embarrassing to admit my errors in judgment, I believe I still have the ability to make amends." You're talking there about breaking ranks from Donald Trump. Remind people if you could please, why, and how you got to that point?
Well, I don't want to make this story too long, but here's what I would say. I was a lifelong Republican, but a moderate Republican. I was in the Jeb Bush, Nelson Rockefeller quadrant of the Republican party, sort of agnostic on issues like gay marriage and women's right to choose. Certainly think that they should be able to live their lives the way they see fit, but was more free-market based, but recognize that you need an energetic government. I'm not a hardcore conservative, but I was more center-right, if you will. Mr. Trump slayed all of those people.
I was with Jeb Bush [then Trump] recruited me into the campaign, and this is a shortcoming of mine which I'm open to admit: I got intoxicated by the idea of working on a winning campaign. Mr. Trump was a celebrity. I started normalizing him like many people did and said, "OK, well, he can't be that abnormal. He's running for president. He's going to sit in Abraham Lincoln's seat, he's the successor of Dwight Eisenhower." You start to normalize somebody that is actually very abnormal, and that is a mistake I made, but I did make it alongside of 63 million other people. And then what happens is he wins, which I didn't think was going to happen. And we should talk about that because the election's coming up in a few weeks. But he wins, and then he asked me to go work for him. And then I make the fatal mistake there. And that's due to the intoxication related to working in the office of the presidency and the notion I'd be working in the White House.
I grew up in this blue-collar family and I've lived a pretty good element of the American dream. And so I started this narrative in my head, and I think I've said this to you, that is very ego-based. You got to be very careful when you're making egocentric decisions based on your ego and pride. Your emotions go up and your intelligence goes down, and you got to be very, very careful. And my wife, who probably hates Trump almost as much as Melania hates him, was dead set against it. We started fighting, almost got ourselves divorced. It was a really rough period of time. But I went to go work for him. Then when I got fired abruptly, I always tell people that was my fault. I said something to a reporter I shouldn't have said that caused me to get fired.
Now I'm outside of the White House, lifelong Republican, let me do my best to try to be supportive of the President and his agenda. And then it just became impossible, so I had to separate myself related to the child separation issue. I had to break from him on denigrating our intelligence agencies, and he's praising Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. He's then saying that the press is the enemy to people. I wrote an op-ed saying that it wasn't. That's actually the last time I talked to Mr. Trump — that was Easter Sunday, April 2019, he called to yell at me and tell me I didn't know what I was talking about and that the press is the enemy of the people, sort of demagogic nonsense.
But then by July, he wants to throw the Congresswomen [four members of Congress known as The Squad], he says he wants them to go back to the countries that they originally came from. And so that is a racist nativist trope. They said it to my Italian-American grandparents. I said, "I am done. There's no way I can support this guy." I disavowed my support, I wrote that article. I wrote many articles subsequent to that. And I'm out there trying to educate as many people as possible at the systemic danger that Mr. Trump represents to our democracy.
So it's a sad thing for me. It's not like I'm all happy about it. I mean, it's sad to listen to the President of the United States ask for the Governor of Michigan, who 10 days ago her life was threatened, they were trying to kidnap her, a white militia group, and possibly execute her. They had to have that broken up by the FBI. And then 10 short days later, the leader of the free world is in her state saying "lock her up." I mean, it's sort of bizarre.
And then, Anthony Fauci, who's been in the American government for 36 years, has dedicated his life to science and healing, he has to now go on his power walks at age 79 with armed federal agents because of death threats related to him because he's just really just trying to tell people the facts about the pandemic and his observation of 6,000 years of scientific discovery on Planet Earth, and what we need to do to protect ourselves. But now he's being threatened as well.
And so there's an evil in our world, you and I both know that. It's important for good men and women to reject evil. We know from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that evil people can get ahead mostly based on the silence of good people and the inaction of good people. I feel compelled to speak out about it and I'm going to continue to do that. And by the way, if Mr. Trump is defeated, which I predict he will be in two weeks, you still have a problem in the country because there is a systemic issue related to a very large group of people that are angry and they feel left out of the system. Mr. Trump has preyed on their anger, trying to divide the country. We have to work with those people to see if we can calm things down and bring them back. So it's a sad situation, Dean.
You're still friends with John Kelly, who was chief of staff for President Trump and is a retired U.S. Marine Corps general. CNN reported last week that Kelly told his close friends the following about Trump."The depths of his dishonesty is just astounding to me. The dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it's more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life." You're friends with John Kelly, can you share anything more about this comment?
I think he's made a decision — alongside of HR McMaster, who I interviewed on Friday for SALT Talks, and for General Mattis — I think they've all made the decision that they are going to stay consistent with what George Washington wanted for the military, and Eisenhower, and Marshall, was the separation of military men from the political system because they want to adhere to the civilian nature of the democracy. And they don't want to use their uniforms and their brass, if you will, to make any undue influence.
Having said that, they've all spoken out. They've all said that the President is unfit to serve. They've disagreed with the President's use of force in Lafayette Square. They have said that the President is a threat to the constitution. They have said that he is trying to divide the nation, he's not trying to unite the nation. Because of their roles in the military, as former military general officers, they don't feel that they should be out on a platform or a podium. But having said that, I'm friends with all three of them, including Admiral [William H.] McRaven who has spoken out a little bit more voraciously than them. They've all said to me, "Hey, this is your civilian duty to get out there and speak truth to power related to this." So Olivia Troy, Miles Taylor, myself. I guess what should upset the American people is that there's a very large group of people inside the administration that know how dangerous President Trump is. There's also senators that know how dangerous he is. John Cornyn is now saying, "Well, I broke from him privately." So what's going to happen is this ship is sinking, all the rats are going to climb over to one side and say, well, yeah, we didn't really like him that much.
It speaks to the cowardice and the political expediency and the selfishness of people, because when Mr. Trump was flying high they wanted to be around him. And it was speaking to their power of personal preservation and so forth. I broke from President Trump, it turned out, at the height of his poll numbers. If you look back July of 2019 into August of 2019, he was at the height of his poll numbers, he was at the height of his popularity and approval rating. And many people said to me, "Well, that's a kamikaze mission, and you're going to be rejected soundly by your fellow Republicans." But it's not a kamikaze mission today. It's a mission loaded with aircraft carriers and squadrons.
General Kelly knows this man is unfit. He knows this man is dishonest. General Kelly knows that he called his son who died for our country a sucker and a loser. General Kelly would tell you if he would come on your show that that's the tip of the iceberg of the way Mr. Trump talks about our servicemen and women. He's just, unfortunately, an unfit guy. He's an unwell guy. Something's wrong with him mentally. You don't have to be a psychiatrist to see that there's something wrong with him. The guy is very sick. He's an unwell person.
I'm going to work over the next 16 days to get rid of him. But then over the next several years, we have another project, we have to heal the country. We have to figure out why the country got to where it is right now. And God forbid, look, there's a chance he could win. If he wins, we're going to be heading into an American winter, Dean. And it's going to be a sad four years for America. This guy's going to try to really disrupt and destroy the institutions of our democracy.
Healing is so appealing to me down the road, but winning right now is everything because it has to be. Right now we've got 11 million Americans who have still lost their jobs. You're a finance guy. Last week, we get our weekly unemployment claims. We had almost 900,000, the highest since mid-August. We're going the wrong way on unemployment claims. Trump is not talking about any job creation program whatsoever. From your point of view, forget politics for a second. You look at our economy right now, is it getting sicker, and do we need some federal leadership to make things better for people?
We need two things, actually. We need a coordinated public health and safety policy where the federal government in coordination with the 50 states really follows a process. If you look at what's going on in China right now, they were successful in doing that. Their economy is growing and there are people sitting in Wuhan where the virus originated from without masks on, they're in restaurants. The virus has almost been completely eradicated from the area that it originated from. The virus can be contained, the virus can ultimately be destroyed, and we can move on from the pandemic like we did the Spanish flu and other pandemics throughout history.
You're not going to contain it by lying about the science. You have a science denier in the White House that's saying, "Don't vote for Joe Biden. He may listen to the scientists." Now, what the president is trying to say to his supporters is, "Well, if he listens to his scientists, he's going to shut down the economy and we're going to tip further into a recession." I don't believe that's the case. I think we can explain to people what they need to do to protect themselves. We can get the economy moving. We can offer up, hopefully, more stimulus. We certainly need it.
If you go back to my writings in early March, I was saying we have to go very, very big on this stimulus. We are at war and you have to look at it that way. And so therefore deficit spending needs to increase when you're at war. We can afford it. We have some flexibility in the economy. We're about to enter an amazing growth phase, technologically, for America and the rest of the world. This will unleash another great wave of prosperity.
Now, we have to figure out a way to even it out. That's been one of the dilemmas. We have too big of a wealth divide now. So you need public policy people that are less focused on left and right issues and more focused on what's right and wrong for America. And if we do that, we're going to enter into a golden age for America. Having said that, we got to get the virus behind us. You can't have somebody like Mr. Trump telling you, "Let's just let herd immunity go." We'll have four and a half, 5 million people dead. Why would we do that as a society? What is the case for "economic growth"? You won't have it, by the way, because what will happen is you will scare the living daylights out of every person in the country.
If you offered a coordinated, responsible plan that was national, you could fix this thing. And so, yeah, I'm worried about the economy, but I'm not overly worried about it. I think we've got tremendous resources in the country. We were at peak economic performance in the fourth quarter of 2019. We can get back there. It's not the end of the world. We have to rebuild these cities. All of these things are possible, but they're not going to be possible under a President Trump, they're not. And I'm not saying that Joe Biden is the panacea for our civilization, but at least he's a step towards re-fortifying the institutions of our democracy and the semblance of our government that has made all of us have this great peace and prosperity and this great opportunity in this country.
Over the weekend, Donald Trump said that if he loses he might leave the country. When you hear him say, "Maybe I'll have to leave the country," what does that indicate to you about Trump's thought process now?
Well, he said, "You may never hear from me again if I lose, and maybe I have to leave the country." I think those are both statements by him that should not be taken lightly. I mean, he's got serious problems. His business is under threat, he's got tremendous amounts of debt. There are people that think, though, that he's been paid by some foreign leaders and autocrats to move our foreign policy around, and that that stuff is hidden which will offer him some financial protection. I don't know if that's true or not any more than I... I shouldn't even be saying that because who the hell knows what's going on.
But I will say this. He is a guy that is unstable, and he's a guy that is unfit for the presidency of the United States. To just imagine that he's saying to people, "Well, I may not accept a peaceful transfer of power." After 244 years of the American experiment. And then he's saying he may have to leave the country. And it's never a joke with him. Michael Cohen has said that; I have said that. People that know him know he doesn't know how to joke. He doesn't laugh. He has almost like an Asperger's way about him where he can't pick up the emotional cues and know when to laugh and when not to laugh. He's very rarely joking, if ever.
Your friend Michael Cohen was on MSNBC recently talking about this whole idea of Hunter Biden and the laptop that Rudy has and Cohen said that Rudy is "drunk all the time," making him more easily swayed by Russian disinformation. Is Rudy being used by Russian disinformation forces?
Obviously, you may have read the New York Times article about the New York Post article about Hunter Biden, how the journalists didn't even want to be involved with it because they didn't have enough evidence and they felt the stuff was specious and illusory. Additionally, I choose to think about the mayor the way he was at 9/11 and the way he was from 1993 to 2001. The mayor today is not frankly the same guy that I recognize from 30 years ago and it breaks my heart. It also obviously has an impact on his children. And if you think about what his daughter is saying, "We've got to get rid of Mr. Trump." I mean, it's scary. What Michael is saying about Rudy is true, unfortunately.
At a recent rally, Donald Trump had the crowd cheering, "Lock him up" about Joe Biden. Crowds also cheered "Lock her up" about Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Michigan. He's gone back to [talking about] imprisoning his political opponents. Not just defeating them, but actually putting them in jail. In this case, there's not even evidence Joe Biden's done any wrongdoing whatsoever. How alarming is that to you? Is that just Trump being desperate?
There's a great book out, the title is "Active Measures" [by Thomas Rid] about what the Russians do in terms of disinformation. One of the things is lock up your political opponents. That's a clear message from them. Now, another one is this disinformation, and then it's always pedophilia, by the way. You always want to go with pedophilia. You're going to go with pedophilia because pedophilia is by and large repulsive to 99.5 percent of the population, or hopefully more than that. And so if you accuse somebody of pedophilia and you get people to believe that, it'll engender a lot of hate and create some negative activism. And so they've even tried that now.
I think the good news is that both Facebook and Twitter, which were easily manipulated by Russian intelligence, the GRU, and these troll farms last time, a lot of that stuff has been contained. But I just want you to imagine that the American president, instead of denouncing this sort of activity and denouncing foreign interference, is welcoming the foreign interference. And my liberal friends have a point when they say to me, "Well, you supported that last time." And I have to own that, unfortunately, because I did support it last time, unfortunately. I have to own that.
I admire your honestly there. The stakes are too high. When this is over, if Trump is defeated, do you think that you, Rick Wilson and other Republicans like yourselves might return to the Republican Party and try to reshape it? Or has the party become that of QAnon and Trumpism and wild conspiracy theories and white supremacy?
Yes, I think it'll cause the end of the Republican Party as we know it. And the party already is this aging white demographic. It's going to be a party that buys catheters and CPAP machines and MyPillows in between a Fox News commercial. I mean, it is a weird thing going on right now and the party needs a reset and the party needs a tent expansion and it needs to look like the wonderful, colorful mosaic of America. And it's not going to look like that in its current configuration. Could he pull it off again? Could he have this one last gasp of win, of an aging white America that wants this aging white demagogue to run America? That's possible.
I hope that's not the case, but all I can do right now is fight against it. I can get out there and speak about it. I can offer my opinions on social media. On Friday, I was 10 hours on the radio. I did radio in Michigan, Florida. I did radio in Pennsylvania, radio in Wisconsin. And some of it was tough on me. It was talk radio, conservative talk radio, where these guys have got their callers coming in and lighting me up, and I'm a traitor and I'm a two-faced guy and can't be trusted. I said, "No. I'm not a traitor. I'm just abiding and I'm loyal to the country and I'm loyal to democracy and loyal to the constitution. I'm not loyal to a person."
I would also caution people. You have to have symmetry in loyalty. I tell that to my children. You don't have unconditional asymmetrical loyalty. That's what got Michael Cohen in trouble. Once Trump realized that Mr. Cohen was out to please him any way, anyhow, he kept moving the goalposts on Michael. And so Michael said, "Okay, well, I'm not loyal if I don't pay this porn star. Or I'm not loyal if I don't pay this Playboy model. I'm not loyal if I don't do this. I'm not loyal if I don't do that." Which is why I think Michael named his book "Disloyal" because he's trying to point out that the person that's actually the most disloyal is Mr. Trump. He doesn't care about anybody but himself.
When he's doing a news search, Dean, he's not searching USA. And he's definitely not searching you. He could care less about you. But he's searching Trump, that's it. And so hopefully we can defeat him. And by the way, I will point out when I'm on conservative radio, they want me off in a hurry. I did Steve Hilton's show last time I was on Fox News, Trump was going crazy lighting me up on Twitter because he doesn't want people like me breaking through the vessel of his reality distortion. So what are they going to say to me? How are they going to argue? "Oh, no, Trump is a conservative." "No, he's not. You got a $3 trillion deficit." "Oh, Trump is patriotic." "Tell me how so? He's destroyed the country. He's pitting the country against each other. The first name of the country is United. He's trying to dis-unify the country. So tell me what he's doing that is so patriotic?" By the way, when is bullying been a pro-American value? When has that been a pro-American value?
Let's assume for a second that Trump loses. Michael Cohen testified that he feared if Trump loses in 2020 "there will never be a peaceful transition of power." We don't have to speculate because Trump said maybe there won't be. You know the guy, you know what he's about. He loses, he loses soundly. Do you think he resigns? Do you think he leaves quietly, he does the right thing and shakes Joe Biden's hand on January 20th and escorts him out like Obama did and transfers power? How do you think it truly ends, knowing Trump?
I'm a little bit of a contrarian on this. It has to be a big enough margin. I think if it's a tight margin, I think Michael's going to be right, we're going to be in for a fight. But if it's a big enough margin, if it looks consistent to what the polls look like and what Nate Silver is suggesting, I'm a contrarian because I think Trump is a baby. I think he's a keyboard warrior coward. He's not a confrontational guy. He couldn't handle a confrontation if his life depended on it.
Anderson Cooper said to me, "Wow, you guys are like in a bar fight" last August. I'm like, "We're not at a bar fight." I mean, first of all, this guy's never been in a bar fight. And by the way, with somebody like Trump, I would have dragged him into the street. I would have never left him in the bar. I mean, in the bar, you got the risk of a bouncer intervening in what you need to do to the guy. So no, this guy has never been able to handle conflict like that. He's an over blustering, overcompensating, arguably one of the most insecure people I've ever met in my life. I think the humiliation will cause him to retreat. And I think he'll slink away. And I think he'll want to surprise people by offering some level of conciliation end of power.
Now, if I'm him, I'm trying to negotiate with Biden right now my pardon. I'm trying to figure out a way: "Hey, you're going to be the president. I need a pardon and it'll be better for the American people if I'm pardoned. And I need you to pardon my family as well." And I know people will hate me for saying this, but if you really study political history, you don't want that yoke on the American people. I just want to make this point. Edward Kennedy, he wrote it in his book in 2009, before he passed. He said that he was very upset with Gerry Ford when he pardoned Nixon. And then he reflected upon it. He was pardoned in September 1974. He was writing the book 35 years later. And he said that ultimately Gerry Ford was right. That it actually helped heal the country and allowed the country to move forward and it was a statesman's thing to do and he regrets his criticism of Gerry Ford. And so, I'm just telling my liberal friends to have that historical perspective, let's move on from Mr. Trump and move on from his criminality. We're bigger than him as a country and we need to figure out a way to unify now.