“Jake, I don’t care,” Anthony Scaramucci, Donald Trump’s new communications director, told Jake Tapper on Sunday, on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Scaramucci added, “You know who doesn’t care? The President doesn’t care.” It was a line, and a sentiment, that Scaramucci has repeated often, in one form or another, over the past few days; there seems to be a lot that neither man cares about. In this instance, Scaramucci didn’t care about what Tapper suggested was an extravagant act of hypocrisy on his part. During the Republican primaries, Scaramucci had written a column for the Fox Business News Web site warning against demagoguery and xenophobia, and saying that the G.O.P. faced “a moral debt restructuring, one caused by the reckless behavior of a man who knows a thing or two about bankruptcy.” Tapper, reasonably enough, took this to have been a criticism of the man who is now Scaramucci’s boss, and asked how many positions and principles Scaramucci was willing to renounce in return for a White House office. Scaramucci had already deleted tweets in which he’d declared himself pro-choice, pro gun control, and opposed to the conspiracy theories of climate-change denialists. Tapper suggested that people might think, “Wow, this guy is willing to suppress everything he believes in order to get close to power.” “Nonsense,” Scaramucci said. The whole question, to his mind, embodied everything that was wrong with Washington. He then compared himself to Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan. He also mentioned that Trump had called him from Air Force One—what that was supposed to explain wasn’t clear—and that he loved the President.
Perhaps Scaramucci admires Trump’s knowledge of bankruptcy, perhaps especially moral bankruptcy, not as a degraded state but one in which some unprofitable principles can be written off and new, more marketable ones acquired. Scaramucci has a background in finance, and is currently disentangling himself from SkyBridge Capital, a fund that invests in other funds; Forbes estimated that a sale of his stake might yield close to eighty million dollars. (He also had a career in media, alongside his business ventures, as a host of shows like “Wall Street Week,” on the Fox Business News channel.) Or maybe, as he told Tapper, he just saw the light during the campaign and realized that Trump would be “phenomenal” for America, and thus came by his flashy obsequiousness honestly, at least once other candidates he’d preferred, such as Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, had dropped out. It doesn’t entirely matter. This Administration is such an ethical morass that one can get lost wondering about the state of everybody’s soul. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for example, had always openly loved Donald Trump, who is now doing his best to squish what is left of Sessions’s self-respect, by saying that he ought never to have hired him. Sessions apparently lost Trump’s affection by not acting to protect him from the many investigations into Russia’s role in the 2016 Presidential election.
Scaramucci is doing his best to make up for that lapse. When Tapper asked him about the investigation, he offered up the novel theory that, if the Russians had really been up to something, we would never have known—“they’re super confident in their deception skills in hacking”—and thus the existence of evidence that they were, say, reaching out to the Trump campaign was actually proof that they were not. Scaramucci didn’t take credit for coming up with that one himself; he was repeating something “somebody said to me yesterday, I won’t tell you who.”
“I don’t know who this anonymous person is. . . .” Tapper protested.
“How about, how about it was the, how about it was the President, Jake?” Scaramucci said, with what, for reasons we may never understand, sounded like a note of triumph. The revelation of his source was bolstered by yet another reference to a communication from on high: “He called me from Air Force One.”
Scaramucci appears to believe that if he expresses enough delight in name-dropping and what his boss calls his “braggadocio”—playing up his persona as the Long Island guy who made good in Manhattan, known to friends and foes alike as “the Mooch”—it will come across as charming, or at least provide enough of a distraction to pass for an answer. When Tapper asked him if the President could pardon himself (Trump has reportedly asked his lawyers about this, and tweeted over the weekend that Presidential-pardon powers have no limit), Scaramucci said that he didn’t know. But, he added, “I took constitutional law from Larry Tribe”—a professor at Harvard Law School, which, as Scaramucci had already mentioned, he attended—“and if Professor Tribe is listening, I know he doesn’t like the President, but I did get an A-minus in your course.” Pressed on the question of pardon power, Scaramucci said that it “doesn’t matter anyway, because that is another one of those stupid hypotheticals. He’s not going to have to pardon himself, because he’s done absolutely nothing wrong. So, we don’t even have to worry about it.”
There are likely to be many craven, circular answers of this kind in a Scaramucci-run communications operation. On Friday, in his first engagement with the press, Scaramucci was asked whether he stood by Trump’s assertion that three million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election. “So, if the President says it, let me do more research on it, but my guess is that there’s probably some level of truth to that,” Scaramucci said. It wasn’t clear that the press could expect that research to extend much further than into whether the President had said it and still believed it. It only underscored the question of what the press, or the public, could expect from Scaramucci.
Radical honesty doesn’t seem like an option. Neither does actually useful information on the workings of the executive branch, or of Congress. When he was asked, on Friday, why he believed that the President would get “a win” on health care, he said, “The President has really good karma, O.K.? And the world turns back to him. He’s genuinely a wonderful human being, and I think, as the members of Congress get to know him better and get comfortable with him, they’re going to let him lead them to the right things for the American people. So, I think we’re going to get the health care done.” Despite lines like that, there is a theory that Scaramucci will offer, if nothing else, lively engagement and coherent sentences—a contrast, in other words, to Sean Spicer, the increasingly gloomy press secretary who fled the building on news of Scaramucci’s appointment. For a while, watching Spicer was edifying in a backward sort of way, in that his flailing made the senselessness of the President’s positions manifest. But watching him had begun to feel a little cruel, his humiliation by the White House too deliberate. On Friday, Scaramucci offered a last jab when he said, of Spicer, “I love the guy, and I wish him well, and I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money.”
Money: maybe then Trump would respect poor Spicer. It was a way of reminding everyone in the room that money was something that Scaramucci already has. In the Trump White House, though, he may be surprised at how little it buys him, and at what price.