LAS VEGAS, NV— It’s been one year, eight months and six days since Anthony Scaramucci and John Kelly last interacted in any widely publicized way. That would be the day Kelly, then the new chief of staff for President Trump, fired the Mooch from his role as White House communications director—a job he’d had just 11 days—for telling a reporter: “I’m not Steve Bannon. I’m not trying to suck my own cock.”
Nearly two years later, the two ex-Trump officials spoke in public for the first time at SALT, the hedge fund confab organized by Scaramucci’s firm, SkyBright Capital, and an event that amounted to a kind of White House reunion, bringing in the likes of Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, Nikki Haley, and Federal Reserve Board-wannabe Stephen Moore.
“I’m going to interview General Kelly here in a second,” a navy-suited Scaramucci told the crowd Wednesday evening. “Some of you are probably saying, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ He fired me right after like, a week at the White House. Eleven days, by the way. I want to set the record straight: It was 11 days, not 10. I want to make that clear: If you’re hired on the 21st and fired on the 31st you don’t go 31 minus 21—OK? I did work the day of. On the 31st, he fired me at 9:30 in the morning, I said, ‘General, I’ve got a couple things I need to do.’ He goes, ‘OK, leave at 2 o’clock.’ So I sort of feel like I get the full day. It was 11 days. Don’t gyp me out of 9.1 percent of my federal career–it’s just not fair.”
After he introduced Kelly, the two former advisers addressed their history right away. “I think some people are surprised you accepted my invitation,” Scaramucci said. “I just want to say a big thank you for coming. There are no grudges in sports and politics... I couldn’t be prouder to share this stage with you.”
“What a lot of people don’t know is that, since then we developed a friendship,” Kelly said.
He went on to recount the story of his childhood and growing up in a working-class Boston suburb before being drafted into the Vietnam War in 1970. He recalled hearing about the 9/11 attacks on a TV in North Carolina and going into a combat zone with his two sons.
“One of my guys came into my office and said, ‘Sir, turn on the TV, an airplane has crashed into the World Trade Center,” Kelly said. “I said, ‘What’s the weather like?’ I remembered there was an airplane that crashed into the Empire State Building in the ‘30s. But they turned on the TV and there were bright sunny skies, and then the other one hit. So then I thought, well there’s got to be more to this.”
Scaramucci questioned the former chief of staff about talking to mainstream media (“I used to do off-the-records. I don’t anymore.”), curbing the president’s Twitter use (“That’s not my job.”), the Mueller Report (“I tried aggressively to stay out of it.”), and whether Trump is a stable genius (“I wouldn’t pass judgement on either of those.”)
The bulk of the conversation concerned former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ controversial “zero tolerance” policy––the immigration ruling that resulted in nearly 3,000 children getting separated from their families at the border, detained in facilities often without proper amenities, and overseen by staff who frequently lacked the proper training. The separation and detention of these kids, Kelly claimed, was “purely for humanitarian purposes.” He agreed that the system “needs to be corrected” but told Scaramucci the problem was primarily one of “interagency communication.”
“We need more time to process,” he said. “When Jeff Sessions makes that decision, and it has immediate impact on DHS, which does a lot of policing on the border. They turn the children over to health services. Neither one of those organizations were ready. They were surprised by the decision. On top of that, [they needed] to prepare the public through communications channels––to make them understand that this was about to happen. That’s why you need to have a process within the White House, to take care of all the interagency coordination.”
In the end, Kelly harped on a common refrain among a certain strain of boomer politician: bipartisanship and compromise. “Americans used to be able to disagree with each other and not hate each other,” he said. “Now it seems like if you disagree with me, I hope your mother dies of stage four cancer.” Kelly didn’t provide any advice on ways to find common ground, but he and Scaramucci found some of their own.
“Do you like politics?” the Mooch asked at one point.
Kelly took a beat: “No.”
“That’s one thing we can agree on,” Scaramucci answered. “It completely sucks.”