The Closing: Anthony Scaramucci
The SkyBridge Capital founder on his loyalty to Trump, his $3 billion Opportunity Zones fund and his “crazy Italian family”
Anthony Scaramucci may be best known for his 11 tumultuous days as President Donald Trump’s White House communications director, before he got the axe from then-Chief of Staff John Kelly in July 2017. That was the first time Kelly and Scaramucci had met. The fast-talking 55-year-old financier, whose recent appearance on “Celebrity Big Brother” lasted just six days, now has his eyes on the real estate industry. His hedge fund, SkyBridge Capital, plans to raise an outsized $3 billion Opportunity Zones fund, hoping to seize on the popularity of the federal tax incentive program and deploy capital into developments across the country. SkyBridge, which Scaramucci founded in 2005 after stints at Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers, has $9.7 billion in assets under management. The firm took a hit last spring when talks to sell to the Chinese conglomerate HNA fell apart. In a wide-ranging, two-hour interview in his Madison Avenue office, Scaramucci offered his thoughts on why the HNA deal and his White House tenure imploded and why he thinks his recent real estate foray is a sound bet. The Mooch, which he has no problem calling himself, also spoke candidly about whether Trump is good for the country and what happened the second time he met Kelly.
DOB: Jan. 6, 1964
Lives in: Manhasset, New York
Hometown: Port Washington, New York
Family: Remarried with five children
How did the Scaramuccis arrive in New York? My grandmother and my grandfather settled in Port Washington in the 1920s. They had my mom in 1937. My father was born in 1935. He came to that town from Pennsylvania.
How’d they meet? At a soda shop. He took a 5 to 9 p.m. shift at the soda counter, and my mother walks in there with her high school friends. I think he was serving her. He was a couple of years older than them, and he invited them to drive out to Jones Beach. He gets an effing flat tire on the way there. And my mother’s mouthing off to him while he’s trying to change tire.
Is [your mother] feisty? Oh my God, she’s nuts. You know, the tabloid press is descending on me like locusts because I’ve been blown from the White House. They want to see the car crash. So they’re waiting outside my mother’s house, and now they decide they’re going to knock on my mother’s door. They’re coming with the camera and the lights. My mother bursts open the door. She says, “Get the fuck off my lawn.” I said, “Ma! You can’t do that, that’s what got me in trouble in the White House.” That’s everything you need to know about my crazy Italian family.
I have noticed you make a point of saying that you went Harvard. Why is that? Arriviste. You have to understand something: You’re being profiled. I’m being profiled. So when somebody on late night television is trying to equate me to the Jersey Shore because I’m Italian, or to the Mafia, I say, “Guys, time out a second. I went to Harvard Law School, okay?”
How come you didn’t go on to practice law afterward? Hated it.
But that’s what got you to Goldman? That’s what got me to Goldman.
You were hired, then fired, then re-hired at Goldman? Yes. Totally. You know, John Kelly was sitting in here [in January]. I said: “You’re not the first person to fire me. You probably won’t be the last person to fire me.”
Was he just dropping by, or …? No, I called him. I said, “Hey, I want you to speak at my conference.” I’m going to interview him on stage. You like that move? That guy fired my ass, humiliated me in the international press, blew me out of the White House. Maybe the shortest-tenured White House official in U.S. history. I got blown to smithereens. I did make a mistake, by the way, and what I told Kelly is: “What I did was fireable, I just wish you would’ve fired me differently.”
Have you spoken to [Ryan Lizza] since [that expletive-ridden phone call right before you got fired]? I will never speak to him again.
During your time at Lehman Brothers in the 2000s, was the writing on the wall? I did not think so. I’m going to tell you something that’s very, very honest. I had stock options at Lehman. When I left to start SkyBridge … I asked the Lehman compensation committee to allow me to keep my options. And they said, “no.” And thank God they did.
You also got hit by the financial crisis. So that’s what changed SkyBridge. We’ve got $300 million under management. We had $500 [million]. I land in Melbourne, Australia, on Sept. 16, 2008. The world is in crisis. The markets are in turmoil. And I cut a deal with Challenger Financial to keep the company alive. I sell them 10 percent of our equity and they put in $100 million to bolster the fund. So now I get my ass handed to me. Now I’ve got to figure out how to make the business survive. So I start [SkyBridge Alternatives Conference], because everybody and their mother has money from the federal government.
What was the idea behind this? It was March 10, 2009. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and Citibank are canceling their conferences. Goldman literally moves its conference from Las Vegas to San Francisco.
Why? Barack Obama comes on the television, and he says, “Now’s not the time to go to Vegas, or to be flying in your private plane.”
And so where did you have yours? Las Vegas. I said, “Okay, these guys are all leaving Vegas. You can blow a cannonball through these hotel rooms.” Total contrarian move. And by the way, I make the move not because I’m brilliant. I make the move because I have nothing to lose. What’s the worst that can happen? My business is going out of business, I have a farewell party in Las Vegas. Or I catch the bottom, and I look like a genius.
[Okay, let’s talk politics.] I’m way left of center socially. I got Caitlyn Jenner at my conference. I supported gay rights. I supported equal marriage in New York. I’m a donor to the American Unity PAC, which is Republicans for gay marriage and civil rights equality.
Did that create tension for you once you were revolving around the Republican Party? Oh, yeah. That’s a big bone of contention. By the way, I would maintain to you that Trump was probably left of center and he had to switch positions in order to get the nomination.
You think he has changed his ideologies? I don’t think so. I think he has to say that he’s changed, for political purposes. He went to Elton John’s wedding. You think Trump cares who marries who? These [evangelical] Republicans are ridiculous. They’re for a smaller government everywhere in this society except your bedroom. It’s a hypocritical, asinine thing.
[You discussed briefly with Obama, at an event, who was going to win the 2016 election. He said he thought Clinton was going to win.] Most of us did. Anybody that tells you in the Trump campaign that they thought Trump was winning is telling you a fib, okay? Particularly after the “Access Hollywood” tape.
What’s your take on that whole saga? The “Access Hollywood” thing? I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I think that they had that bomb on him. And I think they somehow misfired. Basically, what happened there, Trump being Trump …
What does that mean? Trump has a very unique personality. He is arguably one of the most successful politicians in American history, but he spent 68 years of his life actually not being a politician. So Trump being Trump is, he’s a dilettante. He’s a billionaire playboy. He’s gone and had three marriages. He’s got five children from three different women. This is outside of what I would call the evangelical orbit.
Tell me about the time you first met Trump. I met him when I was 31 years old, still working at Goldman. One of my old bosses introduced me to him. And because he was Donald Trump, and I was a 31-year-old kid with school debt, it left a very big impression on me, and I guarantee you it left no impression on him. I become an acquaintance of his, [around] 2010, because he’s on NBC and I’m a signed contributor to CNBC.
So you walked past each other in the hallways? No, I get invited to parties that he’s a part of. There’s an “Apprentice” party he’s hosting. I get invited to that party. I’m not a “friend” of his.
Fast forward to the last election. He does two fundraisers in his apartment. I work on those fundraisers, with Michael Cohen, by the way … I’m on TV a lot, talking about the new administration. The president then offers me the OPL [Office of Public Liaison] position. I accept that. I actually showed Kelly the signed offer acceptance letter. [Steve] Bannon tried to say that I never got the job offer.
Is Bannon personally against you? Well, I think he is now. We go pretty hard after each other now. Back then, I think that he was actually supportive of me … I had a good relationship with Steve. But he turned. Him and Priebus were an unholy alliance. Biggest mistake Trump has made thus far is making Reince Priebus [his] chief of staff.
Why? Because Reince hates Trump. And so he flooded the administration with RNC people that were disloyal to the president’s agenda. They didn’t want him to win the nomination. Trump needed more people that were not willing to alter their behavior.
Do you think he still needs people like that? Of course he does, he’s got a bunch of sycophants. You know that.
Is there a different Scaramucci in public, and on television, “Big Brother,” and then as a serious hedge fund operator? It’s the exact same person. It’s just that I’m an eclectic person. I’ve had to take a lot of risks to get to where I am. Why did I go on “Celebrity Big Brother”? I think that rich people have detached themselves from what’s actually going on in America. I spent 29 years creating some level of financial independence and security for my family. And a result of which, I’m in the echo chamber now of the very wealthy.
What is your position on the #MeToo movement? Trump-related. Spawned and created by Trump … As a reaction against him. If you’re Bill Clinton, and you’re “perceived to be progressive with women,” you can have oral sex just outside the Oval Office and there’s no #MeToo movement. But if you’re Donald J. Trump, and you’re perceived by that movement to be against them, and you’re riding around on the bus with Billy Bush, we can’t take you out because you’re elected for four years, but we’re going to take these other people out.
Do you think Trump is good for America? I think there are aspects of Trump that are very good for America; there’s aspects of Trump that are very bad for America.
Explain that? Yeah. If you took Trump’s policies, which are by and large commonsense in their orientation, and you extract his delivery and elements of his style, that would be way better for America. The coarseness and bellicosity of his style is holding him back on the approval rating, and it’s jarring America … You can’t say that the press is the enemy of the people. You can’t attack people personally on Twitter.
How did you meet your current wife, Deidre? Deidre worked here [at SkyBridge]. She was the head of investor relations.
It was reported that you two are now back together. We reconnected after I got fired [from the White House]. We were on the verge of getting divorced. We actually went to fucking divorce court, and we got perp-walked by the New York Post. Brutal. After that, I went to see her. I said, “Look, I’m still in love with you. If you want to try to figure out a way to put this back together, I would like to do that.”
Was that a tumultuous period of life for you? I’m not sanitizing it: I put my pride and my ego into my decision-making. The minute that Priebus and Bannon blocked me from the OPL job, I locked and loaded on the two of them. I was absolutely stupid. When your emotions are running high, your intelligence is running low. Don’t ever forget that, okay?
How many homes do you have? I have three. One in Manhasset, one in Southampton, and a place in Windham, New York, in the Catskills.
[And what about your newest venture?] How did you get into Opportunity Zones? When I got back to SkyBridge, two of my partners were already working on an Opportunity Zone fund for EJF Capital. And I said okay, that’s great! Because I know a lot about this and we can get some insight from Treasury, blah blah blah.
You are seeking to raise $3 billion. Right, I don’t think that’s ambitious. I think we can do a billion each year based on what I know of available demand for the product. But let me tell you something: If you don’t speak and talk that way, you’re not going to get it done.
You said you’ve raised $28 million so far. We see this as a very slow ramp from the beginning of the year. I think we could easily raise that kind of money, knowing the demand that’s out there. Our traditional vendors are UBS, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Raymond James. They would put us on their platform, and then there are tens of thousands of financial advisers that can go and recommend our REIT. If we can get on one of the platforms, then yes, I can’t see why we won’t have $1 billion [this year]. If we can’t get onto one of the platforms, we will probably do about $300 [million] to $500 million.
How do you plan to invest in the Opportunity Zones? It’s going to be primarily development … A lot of what we will be doing is ground-up or knocking something down and then rebuilding it. There’s 8,700 zones; the guys that we we’re working with, they have a 15-year track record, they have offices in L.A. and in Connecticut. I think the specific emphasis for us will be the West Coast, and New England down the Atlantic.
Why did EJF and SkyBridge split? They had a fund that they were running. We set up a restructure to make it more available to retail investors, or what I would call the mass affluent. And they wanted to simultaneously be our sub-advisers on the REIT and run their fund. We wanted it to be in one unit.
Why weren’t they willing to do that? I think they were willing to do that once they got to a certain number.
So prior, and other than the stint you did with Goldman, have you had any other experience with real estate financing? I backed Westport Capital Partners, my sub-adviser. In 2006, I seeded them with money and went out and raised them their first billion dollars. So they’re friends of mine. Fully disclosed, we have a small ownership stake in their original fund; we don’t have an ownership stake in their company.
Last year, SkyBridge was to be sold to Chinese firm HNA, but that fell apart. What happened? Before the talks broke off, there was a negative story about HNA every single week in the press. When we announced our merger was over, have you seen that many negative stories on HNA?
What are you suggesting? Washington has made a decision to intensify activity on merger activity with Chinese institutions. It’s got a lot tougher to get these things through.
Then what happened? The deal didn’t go through, so I’m back in my ownership position at SkyBridge like nothing changed. We lost a couple of billion dollars as a result of it, we’re getting it back now. Performance has been great.
Okay, and on a final note: What’s your biggest vice? I over-talk.
—Edited and condensed for clarity.