White House

Scaramucci on Trump: ‘He’s My Client’

Anthony Scaramucci, founder and managing partner of Skybridge Capital, served briefly as White House communications director in 2017.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

Here's the thing about the Mooch: When he sets a goal for himself, he somehow seems to find a way to accomplish it.

The Mooch, of course, is Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director for President Trump.

For those of us who have covered Mr. Scaramucci's unlikely career on Wall Street over the years, his surprise appointment last Friday probably shouldn't have come as that much of a shock. Every time it appeared his career was on the ropes — after Goldman Sachs fired him, after the financial crisis left his fund-of-funds firm nearly out of business — he always found a way to come back.

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And after the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and the chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, ran a monthslong campaign to block his appointment to join the Trump administration as the director of the office of public liaison — and had seemingly succeeded — Mr. Scaramucci nevertheless found a way into the White House, reporting directly to the president.

Which was completely true to form for the 53-year-old financier, who counts among his recent accomplishments getting CNN to apologize for a story it ran about him and to part ways with the three journalists whose names were on it.

"I was left for dead on the street, and now I'm headed for Air Force One," Mr. Scaramucci said by phone on Monday, literally on his way toward Air Force One for a quick trip with the president to Beaver, W.Va.

Mr. Scaramucci's detractors say he is a fast-talking, glad-handing, backslapping showboat — a self-promoter who is in love with himself and with access to power.

Worse, they say, he was willing to sacrifice his principles to climb the Republican ladder and get close to those he bet would wind up with the most power: They tick off a list of Republican contenders he supported (Mitt Romney, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush) before ever sidling up to Mr. Trump. Indeed, Mr. Scaramucci once called the president "a hack," a quote that has received its fair share of airtime over the past 72 hours.

Back in 2015 when Mr. Scaramucci was still backing Mr. Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, he had some choice words for Mr. Trump on the Fox Business Network. "The politicians don't want to go at Trump because he's got a big mouth and [they're] afraid he's going to light them up on Fox News and all these other places, but I'm not a politician," Mr. Scaramucci said on the air. "You're an inherited money dude from Queens County — bring it, Donald. Bring it."

When I raised the issue with Mr. Scaramucci about whether he was sacrificing his principles, he said there was a time-honored tradition in political circles of changing your view of someone or something, and that the criticism he was getting for that was "the most hypocritical thing in Washington." He then offered up a list of politicians, including Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill, who he said had changed their minds about particular stances and gone on to be considered legendary public servants.

And, he said, context matters.

At the time of his negative remarks about Mr. Trump, "he was hitting the hedge funds," Mr. Scaramucci said, referring to Mr. Trump's attacks at the time on the industry as "paper pushers."

"And I was hitting back," Mr. Scaramucci continued. "I know how to fight."

And we know that Mr. Trump likes a fighter.

Indeed, Mr. Scaramucci is about the closest thing to Wall Street's version of his new boss. He's a silver-tongued Trump. A consummate salesman, like his boss. He's an impresario, one of New York's most colorful characters, like his boss. He has written three books, similar to his boss's self-help books. (He has even written about remaking himself: One of his books is called "Hopping Over the Rabbit Hole: How Entrepreneurs Turn Failure Into Success.")

And Mr. Scaramucci believes that all — or at least, most — publicity is good publicity, as long as you spell his name right (which isn't that easy).

Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Scaramucci is driven by a deep sense that he has something to prove.

The comparison to Mr. Trump, he said, "is a huge compliment." But he was quick to wave it away. "When someone says you're one in a million ..." he began his next sentence, as if to suggest such a comparison can never be true. Then he pivoted to say that Mr. Trump is the anomaly. "This a one-of-a-kind, incredibly unique individual."

As to whether Mr. Scaramucci, who has no political background or experience, can translate in Washington, he was fast to suggest that it would be a natural fit. "Ironically, even though I'm a Wall Streeter, I gravitated towards the communications," he said. "If I didn't have so much financial anxiety, I wouldn't have gone towards Wall Street."

Indeed, Mr. Scaramucci's improbable success may have stemmed, at least initially, from that anxiety. On paper, he's the American dream. He grew up in Port Washington, N.Y., where his father was a construction worker. He went to public school, then Tufts University and then Harvard Law School.

He never practiced law, instead going directly to Goldman Sachs, where he was quickly fired and given an $11,000 severance. Never one to accept failure, he worked the phones and got himself rehired two months later in the firm's sales division.

Mr. Scaramucci then co-founded Oscar Capital Management, a hedge fund, which he sold to Neuberger Berman, an investment management giant, in 2001. He then started SkyBridge Capital, a fund-of-funds, which, by his own estimate, almost didn't make it after the financial crisis.

"That was a real bottom for me," he told me. "We were almost out of business."

But he shrewdly bought Citigroup's fund-of-fund business in early 2010, just as it was trying to right its own ship. On top of that, he started the SALT conference in Las Vegas, which has become the world's most prominent event for the hedge fund industry (the name is short for Skybridge Alternatives).

Mr. Scaramucci paid to bring some of the biggest speakers to the conference — George W. Bush and Bill Clinton among them — which in turn brought out the biggest names in the hedge fund industry, like Ken Griffin, Dan Loeb, Bill Ackman and Steven Cohen.

He agreed to sell SkyBridge to HNA, the Chinese conglomerate, in January. (Again, his timing seemed to be sharp given the struggles the hedge fund industry has had.) The deal, which is being reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, still hasn't closed.

Mr. Scaramucci bolstered his name by regularly making the rounds on CNBC and, later, Fox Business. He bought the legendary PBS show "Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser" and remade it on Fox. (I interviewed him a handful of times years ago on CNBC, where I am an anchor of "Squawk Box.")

He explained his relationship with Mr. Trump in terms of the banking business. "It is a client service business," he said. "And he's my client."

The question is, what does Mr. Scaramucci want next? His bet on Mr. Trump will either launch him into media superstardom and a possible political career, or leave him badly damaged. (He's already being criticized for being too sycophantic.)

Will he be a moderating force within the White House, or perhaps an enabler? People who have seen Mr. Scaramucci and Mr. Trump interact say that he has gained the trust of Mr. Trump, such that in private, he can be blunt and honest, even when he disagrees with the president.

But Mr. Scaramucci said, "My views don't matter," adding, "I've subordinated my views to the views of the president."

Still, he allowed, "I'm not a shrinking violet."