LAW & ORDER
Why Anthony Scaramucci’s Rant Probably Ticked Off the FBI
Former federal prosecutors say Scaramucci inadvertently accused FBI agents of breaking the law.
In his immediately infamous phone call to a New Yorker staff writer, Anthony Scaramucci didn’t just say the White House chief of staff was a “f–king paranoid schizophrenic” or accuse the president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, of engaging in autofellatio. He also made a remarkable revelation about his own conduct.
FBI agents, Scaramucci said, may have committed a crime on his behalf.
Discussing his anger about White House officials’ propensity to leak to reporters, Scaramucci told the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza that federal law enforcement officials have actually been leaking to him—about which White House staffers are leaking. Really.
“This is going to get cleaned up very shortly, O.K.?” Scaramucci said. “Because I nailed these guys. I’ve got digital fingerprints on everything they’ve done through the F.B.I. and the fucking Department of Justice.”
A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on Scaramucci’s assertion. But former FBI agents and federal prosecutors who spoke with The Daily Beast said that if Scaramucci was being truthful, he disclosed that FBI agents had violated the agency’s protocols and maybe broken the law.
The bureau has strict rules that keep agents from sharing information they find in their investigations with people who aren’t authorized to see it. Agents that reveal information without authorization can be suspended or fired.
“If an FBI agent turned over digital evidence demonstrating who did particular leaks, that would be wildly inappropriate,” said Ken White, a former federal prosecutor who now practices criminal defense and first amendment litigation. “It could be illegal. It could be a felony depending on the nature of the evidence and how it was acquired. It would certainly be a flagrant breach of FBI protocol.”
Though he considered Scaramucci’s comments a maligning of the agency, White said he was extremely skeptical that the new White House communications director was telling the truth.
“I read that and immediately thought, ‘This is dumbass popped-collar chest bumping,” he said.
A retired FBI agent, who stayed anonymous to candidly discuss agency norms, shared White’s view that the president’s communications director is probably full of shit, and that if he were telling the truth it would mean someone at the FBI should be fired.
“Just knowing the FBI, somebody at the White House couldn’t just pick up the phone and call the FBI and say, ‘Can you tell me this, this, or that?’” the agent said. “Absolutely not. That would not happen. Or should not happen! If it’s happening and they find out who did it in the FBI, that person could have disciplinary action.”
“That’s an unauthorized leak!” he added, in a not-so-subtle reference to Scaramucci’s much ballyhooed war on leaking.
The relationship between the White House and the FBI is already in a delicate place, following President Trump’s attacks on the agency’s leadership and his decision to can former director James Comey. This past Thursday, Trump tweeted that acting FBI director Andrew McCabe is part of “the swamp” because his wife “got big dollars” from the Clinton team – referring to a contribution Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s political group made to McCabe’s wife’s unsuccessful bid for a Virginia state house seat.
Scaramucci’s comments, which come the day after he fired off a cryptic tweet about leakers -- mentioning Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and tagging the FBI’s Twitter handle -- threaten to make matters worse, as law enforcement officials say they will easily be interpreted as an attack on the agency.
Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said the Scaramucci comments suggest he doesn’t respect the traditional separation between the FBI and the White House.
“It certainly could trigger an investigation if an agent is passing information in an unusual way to a friend,” he said. “Whether he/she should be fired, I’m not sure. But it’s certainly highly irregular and inappropriate.”
“The bigger problem for Scaramucci is putting an FBI agent in that position,” he added. “An agent might feel pressured to comply.”