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Inside The White House Drama : NPR

Steve Inskeep talks with reporter Olivia Nuzzi of New York Magazine about the apparent tension that’s erupted among members of the White House staff.



STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump’s communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, says he feels like a brother to the chief of staff in the White House, Reince Priebus.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: Some brothers are like Cain and Abel. Other brothers can fight with each other and get along. I don’t know if this is repairable or not. That will be up to the president.

INSKEEP: So he said on CNN, as Cain and Abel’s feud broke into the open. Later the same day, The New Yorker published more words from Scaramucci, who phoned a reporter to call Reince Priebus a, quote, “paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.” He used a profane adjective – or is it an adverb? – to intensify that. He went on to use a vulgar phrase meaning that White House adviser Steve Bannon is all about himself. Olivia Nuzzi of New York Magazine is covering this story. She’s in our studios. Good morning.

OLIVIA NUZZI: Hey. How are you?

INSKEEP: Why is Scaramucci so upset?

NUZZI: (Laughter) Well, you know, it’s funny. He has been this upset since at least the winter at Reince Priebus and at other people in the White House, who he thinks tried to prevent him from being hired.

INSKEEP: I guess we should remind people – he’s been a friend and sometime adviser to President Trump for quite some time…

NUZZI: Quite some time.

INSKEEP: …Even though he was just been hired.

NUZZI: Right. He claims that they met at Yankee Stadium, going to games together 10 years ago…

INSKEEP: OK.

NUZZI: …About. And – yeah, he – but he’s under the impression that a combination of leaks and bad-mouthing him to the president led to him being kept out of a job the first time around. He was supposed to be confirmed along with everybody else in the White House. And then, at the last second, he was not confirmed. He was not part of that group of staffers.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

NUZZI: And he has sort of spent the last several months trying to get back into the circle. And he was successful. And this is a point of pride for him now. He’s very happy with himself for being here, even though so many people do not want him to be here. I think that came through in Ryan Lizza’s interview with The New Yorker.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

NUZZI: He talks about himself in the third person as the Mooch, which is his nickname. He’s very proud of himself. But yeah, so he views Reince Priebus as being sort of the person who stood in the way of his hiring.

INSKEEP: If you don’t mind me saying, though, he called Reince Priebus a paranoid schizophrenic. One could argue that Scaramucci is the guy who sounds paranoid in this description of the interview because he’s just so upset about leaks that he fears is about him. And he’s upset that someone has leaked a financial disclosure that seems to have been routinely released. And he’s upset.

NUZZI: Well, he is upset. And the thing about Anthony Scaramucci – I’m sure he’s very intelligent. I like him. A lot of reporters like him very much.

INSKEEP: Sure.

NUZZI: I was saying yesterday, it’s – I feel like one of my uncles is all of a sudden the communications director for the White House…

INSKEEP: Yeah.

NUZZI: …One of my Italian, New Yorker uncles. But yeah, he’s very upset. But this happens all the time in Trump’s orbit, where it is impossible for anyone to believe that they are not – that any negative story that comes out is not the subject – is not because of opposition research…

INSKEEP: A conspiracy of some kind.

NUZZI: …Not because of leaks. They can’t – they cannot conceive of a world in which reporters are doing their own reporting, reporters are investigating, or reporters might obtain documents on their own. They think it has to have come from one of their many enemies. And in some cases, it’s true. I mean, everybody in Trump’s orbit is sort of always trying to screw someone else. But obviously, people do independently report. And – but that to them, if you even say that, it’s just like, oh, yeah, whatever. Of course you believe that. You’re part of the opposition party.

INSKEEP: Can I ask you about one thing that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, said about this in trying to explain it yesterday? She said, the president likes competition among his advisers…

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: …Suggesting it’s just fine if the communications director and chief of staff are publicly denouncing each other in one way or another. Does the president really like this?

NUZZI: Yes. Well, Donald Trump thrives on chaos. He likes to preside over chaos. I mean, it really is like “The Apprentice: West Wing” in there.

INSKEEP: And he – does he just enjoy it, or does he believe this is actually good for him and good for his administration?

NUZZI: I think he is entertained by it. And I think that he is somebody who gets bored very easily, as we know, and is constantly looking for things to be entertained by. But I also think that he feels like healthy competition is necessarily good for the workplace.

INSKEEP: I just have to ask this question – is the president still going to be happy with this story when it becomes clear this story is about Anthony Scaramucci and not about Donald Trump?

NUZZI: Well, that’s – I mean, that’s sort of the question right now because Anthony Scaramucci has been described to me as, you know, President Trump’s shiny, new toy by several different people in his orbit. And what happens is it’s a cycle. You know, people are very interesting to the president when they’re new, and then they do something that upsets him. And oftentimes, it’s as simple as getting too much attention. And if this continues, I could very well see President Trump becoming disillusioned with Anthony Scaramucci.

INSKEEP: Olivia, thanks for coming by.

NUZZI: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Olivia Nuzzi writes for New York Magazine.

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