The civil war inside Donald Trump's White House has exploded into public view, with newly-minted director of communications Anthony Scaramucci attacking two other top presidential advisers in a profanity-laced tirade.
In a rant to the New Yorker published online Thursday evening, Mr. Scaramucci disparaged chief of staff Reince Priebus as a "paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac," and accused him of leaking confidential information to the media. Then, he excoriated chief strategist Steve Bannon for being vain and self-aggrandizing.
At another point in the conversation, Mr. Scaramucci said he wanted to "kill" political staffers who give unauthorized information to reporters.
Even by the standards of Mr. Trump's chaotic administration, Mr. Scaramucci's foul-mouthed rant was arresting. It suddenly put the non-stop feuding within the West Wing at centre stage and raised questions about the futures of the President's top staffers.
In a subsequent tweet, Mr. Scaramucci appeared to suggest he did not realize that his conversation with the New Yorker could be published, suggesting a somewhat shaky grasp of the media for a communications director.
It came amid a bizarre several days for the rookie staffer.
Mr. Trump hired Mr. Scaramucci, a former Wall Street financier nicknamed "the Mooch," last week. Mr. Priebus, who had blocked Mr. Scaramucci from receiving a government job earlier this year, objected. So did Mr. Bannon and press secretary Sean Spicer. Mr. Spicer promptly resigned.
Mr. Scaramucci's hiring seemed from the start to be an attempt to undercut Mr. Priebus, a mainline Republican who has never fit easily with Mr. Trump's insurgent presidency. Mr. Scaramucci, for instance, reported directly to Mr. Trump and not through the chief of staff.
After a well-received opening press conference last Friday, at which Mr. Scaramucci sought to turn the temperature down with a press corps that often had a combative relationship with Mr. Spicer, Mr. Scaramucci went on the war path.
Determined to stop the flood of media leaks among White House staff, he threatened earlier this week to "fire everybody" on his communications staff if that's what it took to instill discipline.
Mr. Scaramucci told Politico that he planned to fire Michael Short, a press aide hired by Mr. Priebus, without telling Mr. Short. Then, Mr. Scaramucci complained to reporters that Mr. Short's firing had been "leaked" – even though Mr. Scaramucci himself was the source of the story.
"This is actually a terrible thing. Let's say I'm firing Michael Short today. The fact that you guys know about it before he does really upsets me as a human being and as a Roman Catholic," he told reporters. (Mr. Short resigned later that day.)
On Wednesday night New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza, citing an unnamed source, tweeted about a private dinner Mr. Scaramucci had attended that evening at the White House with Mr. Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, Fox News host Sean Hannity and Bill Shine, a former Fox executive.
Mr. Scaramucci, angry that his anti-leaking warning had not prevented a White House insider from telling a reporter about his eating habits, telephoned Mr. Lizza and demanded to know his source. When Mr. Lizza refused, Mr. Scaramucci accused Mr. Priebus of being the leaker.
Then, he insulted Mr. Bannon. A former Breitbart chair who has tried to craft an ideological basis for Mr. Trump's nationalistic presidency, he held a place of prominence in Mr. Trump's circle for months but angered the President when he began attracting significant attention from the media, who portrayed him as a puppet-master controlling Mr. Trump.
Mr. Scaramucci did not ask that the conversation be off the record, Mr. Lizza reported.
"What I want to do is I want to…kill all the leakers and I want to get the President's agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people," the New Yorker quoted Mr. Scaramucci as saying.
Then, he appeared to claim that the White House was already using the FBI to investigate leakers, and that he might be subjecting people to lie-detector tests.
"Okay, the Mooch showed up a week ago. This is going to get cleaned up very shortly, okay? Because I nailed these guys. I've got digital fingerprints on everything they've done through the FBI and the…Department of Justice," Mr. Scaramucci said, adding the leakers would "get prosecuted" and making a vague reference to a "lie-detector."
Mr. Scaramucci then told Mr. Lizza he had to run because he wanted to go on Twitter to bait Mr. Priebus.
Shortly after, Mr. Scaramucci tweeted: "In light of the leak of my financial info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept #swamp @Reince45." He later back-pedaled, insisting on Twitter that he wasn't actually accusing Mr. Priebus of leaking, but only tagged him in the post to indicate he would help hunt down the leakers.
The reference to the "leak" of Mr. Scaramucci's financial information was sparked by a Politico story on his finances that was written using public documents.
On Thursday morning, Mr. Scaramucci called in to CNN when Mr. Lizza was on the air, hinted again that Mr. Priebus was a leaker, and proceeded to compare their relationship to that of Cain and Abel.
Then, he told Mr. Lizza he was only kidding in their conversation the previous night.
"I was on a plane landing in New York, I have to go visit my mom, and so you may have caught it the wrong way. I was teasing you and it was sarcastic. It was one Italian to another," he said.
After the New Yorker article was posted later in the day, Mr. Scaramucci tweeted that he would "refrain" from using "colourful language" but did not apologize. Then, he blamed Mr. Lizza for his misfortune – seemingly unaware of the basic communications rule that discussions between journalists and sources are assumed to be on the record unless specified otherwise.
"I made a mistake in trusting in a reporter," he tweeted. "It won't happen again."