President Donald Trump's new communications chief shoved the behind-the-scenes drama at the White House onto center stage Thursday, daring Trump's chief of staff to publicly deny he's a "leaker" and exposing the West Wing as a hotbed of internal rifts and conspiracy theories.
Language pouring out of the mansion sounded more like a mobster movie than a seat of presidential stability.
In a pull-no-punches, impromptu CNN interview that he said was authorized by the president, Anthony Scaramucci went after chief of staff Reince Priebus in graphic terms. "The fish stinks from the head down," he said. "I can tell you two fish that don't stink, and that's me and the president."
Not even a week into his new job, Scaramucci accused unidentified senior officials of trying to sabotage him. But the personal financial information that he said someone had "leaked" about him had simply been obtained through a public records request.
New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza, who received a phone call from Scaramucci Wednesday night, wrote in a piece published Thursday that their chat left little doubt Scaramucci was out for blood when it came to Priebus.
"Reince is a f------ paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac," Scaramucci told Lizza in an expletive-filled conversation.
Lizza wrote that Scaramucci said he thought Priebus would resign soon and that the new White House communications director would move forward with his plan to stop leaking from the executive branch.
"What I want to do is I want to f------ kill all the leakers," he said.
He threatened to fire White House staffers who leaked about a dinner he had with the president.
"They'll all be fired by me," Scaramucci told the magazine. "I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I'll fire tomorrow. I'll get to the person who leaked that to you."
The president's senior counselor, Kellyanne Conway, also speculated in a Fox News interview that unnamed forces were out to get Scaramucci, saying: "Somebody is trying to get in his way and scare him off."
"There are leaks and then there are people using the press to shiv each other in the ribs," she said.
By day's end Scaramucci sounded calmer, though not regretful.
"I sometimes use colorful language. I will refrain in this arena but not give up the passionate fight for @realDonaldTrump's agenda. #MAGA," he tweeted. The tag at the end stands for Trump's "Make America Great Again."
He also blamed the reporter, Ryan Lizza. "I made a mistake in trusting in a reporter," he added later. "It won't happen again."
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred reporters to the first tweet.
Meanwhile, no one in the White House took up for Priebus — including Priebus himself. Newly promoted press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders avoided giving a direct answer when asked whether Trump has confidence in Priebus.
In a since-deleted tweet, Scaramucci conspicuously mentioned Priebus' Twitter handle. Scaramucci later said he had only mentioned Priebus to show that all senior leaders are taking the leak crackdown seriously.
"In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony, I will be contacting @FBI and the @JusticeDept #swamp @Reince45," the since-deleted tweet read.
Politico reported earlier Wednesday on the former Wall Street financier's financial holdings, saying Scaramucci earned $4.9 million from his ownership stake in his investment firm SkyBridge Capital between January 2016 and last June, and listed assets worth $85 million. The report was based on the financial disclosure form Scaramucci filed for his role with the Export-Import Bank.
Politico noted the document was publicly available upon request. The site's reporter Lorraine Woellert said on SiriusXM’s "The Michael Smerconish Program" Thursday that there was no leak, Priebus wasn't involved, and the White House already been made aware the story was coming out.
“He’s been at the Ex-Im Bank for just over a month, so I got his documents," she said of Scaramucci. "It’s as simple as that. And it just laid out his financials, and I just typed it up. I mean, it was pretty simple."
Although he is new to the White House, Scaramucci had been employed at a senior level by the Export-Import Bank since June 19. After 30 days, the financial disclosure forms filed by senior administration officials are subject to public records requests.
After removing the tweet, Scaramucci denied that it was a threat to Priebus, writing that the deleted tweet was "was public notice to leakers that all Sr Adm officials are helping to end illegal leaks."
The issue of leaks has weighed heavily on President Donald Trump as his administration tries to navigate questions about contacts some Trump campaign associates may have had with Russian government officials.
The recent revelation that Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met with a Russian government lawyer has magnified those questions and fueled Trump's frustration over leaks to the media.
Scaramucci told CNN that officials sometimes "leak things to reporters to help shape policy." But he said he wants to stop what he calls "nefarious, unnecessary, backstabbing, palace intrigue-like leaks."
Asked what he meant by including Priebus, Scaramucci said, "If Reince wants to explain he's not the leaker, he can do that." Scaramucci said he didn't know if his relationship with Priebus "is repairable or not."
"That will be up to the president," he said. "But he's the chief of staff. He's responsible for understanding and uncovering and helping me do that inside the White House, which is why I put that tweet out last night."
Scaramucci went on to say that "we have a very, very good idea of who the leakers are — who the senior leakers are in the White House.”
He added that he had talked to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and to his "buddies" in the FBI about the matter, and called White House leaks "small potatoes" relative to leaks about Syria, North Korea and Iraq.
"Those are the types of leaks that are so treasonous that 150 years ago people would have actually been hung for those types of leaks," he said.
Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, and her husband, powerful senior aide Jared Kushner, have known Scaramucci for years from New York and pushed for his hiring.
Scaramucci notably said he reports directly to the president, not to the chief of staff. That's a highly unusual arrangement for a communications director and a possible reflection that Priebus' standing with Trump is often uncertain.
House Speaker Paul Ryan defended Priebus Thursday, saying he "is doing a fantastic job." He urged both men to settle their differences.
Trump's first White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, resigned last week with the news that Scaramucci was being brought on as communications director. Scaramucci is now officially on the job for the White House, NBC News confirmed.
Priebus was also said to have objections to Scaramucci's appointment. Priebus took those objections about Scaramucci to Vice President Mike Pence but found no support, two sources told NBC News. One official, speaking on behalf of Priebus, told NBC News he was only "trying to slow down the process."
Priebus went on to say publicly that he backed Scaramucci's hiring "100 percent."
“We go back a long, long way and are very good friends,” Priebus told The Associated Press.
Scaramucci last week described his and Priebus' relationship as "a little bit like brothers, where we rough each other up once in a while."
On Thursday, Scaramucci returned to the metaphor but this time mentioned the biblical brothers Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve.
"Some brothers are like Cain and Abel," he told CNN. "Other brothers can fight with each other and get along."
In the Bible Cain kills Abel.
—Daniel Macht contributed to this report