The White House’s new communications director appears to have leaked news of the start of an impending staff shakeup on Tuesday morning, then invoked the story that resulted from his leak to denounce…. White House leaks.
That denouncement from Anthony Scaramucci is the first salvo in his threatened purge of West Wing press staff, a purge that one senior Trump aide described to The Daily Beast as the “Night of the Long Sporks,” a joking reference to the Night of the Long Knives, a Nazi purge that took place in the summer of 1934.
For the past few days, Scaramucci has told nearly every reporter who will listen that he intends to crack down on leaks coming from the dozens of comms staffers in the Trump White House. He's threatened to “fire everybody” who violates his leak prohibition, insisting that it will bring order to a disorderly operation.
Meanwhile, inside the White House, assistant press secretary Michael Short has for months been accused by colleagues of being one of several “Reince [Priebus] loyalists” who routinely leaks to the press -- internal sniping that Short has repeatedly and vehemently denied.
So it wasn’t a terrible surprise on Tuesday morning to see Politico publish an article in which Scaramucci announced his plan to sack Short. Except, Trump’s new comms chief never actually gave Short a heads-up. According to multiple sources in the White House, Short and many of his colleagues learned of Scaramucci’s decision to axe him via the press, Twitter, and frantic texts.
Later Tuesday morning, Short was telling reporters that “no one has told me anything and [that] the entire premise [of the story] is false.” By early afternoon, he had announced he was in fact leaving the White House.
Scaramucci blamed the press.
"This is the problem with the leaking," he said on Tuesday, bizarrely responding to his own on-the-record leaking to Politico. "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. You got that?"
Multiple members of Scaramucci’s comms department told The Daily Beast that Tuesday’s news has the team further on-edge. But beyond Short, it is unclear who, or how many staffers are on “The Mooch’s hit list,” as one aide put it.
Another aide compared Scaramucci’s axing of Short to when a new inmate gets to a maximum-security prison and you “kill the first guy you see” to gain respect and credibility internally.
Officials and staffers spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity because leaks are now evidently frowned upon in this White House. Scaramucci did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
No one in the White House knows exactly how Scaramucci will continue to flex his muscles. Some speculate that he could go for more expansive “checks” on smartphones or other devices, or routine interrogations of other staffers. (Phone checks for less senior level staffers was an early feature of the bygone Sean Spicer era.) Many, however, view Scaramucci’s talk of a big purge as nothing more than being “all a show for Trump” to project a sense of “toughness” and decisive action, as one White House official described it.
Still, among the staffers who could be in Scaramucci’s crosshairs, there is some bewilderment as to why they are being targeted when there are much bigger fish to fry.
“If you’re concerned about leaks that are actually doing the most harm to this [White House], leaks from [mid-level] members of the press and comms team aren’t your problem,” one aide vented. “You’d have a better shot with looking at staff that has people whose names rhyme with ‘Rannon’ or ‘Meibus’ or ‘Wushner’ or ‘Mellyanne’ or ‘Tone,’ [and so on].”