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As new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci publicly attacks chief of staff Reince Priebus on Thursday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn't answer repeated reporter questions about whether Trump has confidence in him. (July 27) AP

Scaramucci talks with the media outside the White House on July 25, 2017.(Photo: Tasos Katopodis, AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — It’s on: Scaramucci vs. Priebus.

The near-constant infighting within President Trump’s staff burst back into public view Thursday, after newly hired White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci — less than a week on the job — sent a contentious tweet and gave an aggressive television interview that appeared to finger White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus as a leaker.

Describing what he called a war on news leaks from senior White House officials, Scaramucci cited Priebus in connection with leaks of news stories damaging the president and his aides — including the newly hired communications director. 

In a tweet he later deleted, Scaramucci tagged Priebus in a post condemning the publication of the financial disclosure form that Scaramucci — who spent almost three decades on Wall Street — recently filed in connection with his previous government job at the Export-Import Bank.

Later, asked about the tweet on television, Scaramucci denied he was directly accusing Priebus of leaking, but he did put the onus on the chief of staff to explain more about his involvement. “When I put out a tweet and I put Reince’s name in the tweet, they’re all making the assumption that it’s him because journalists know who the leakers are. So if Reince wants to explain that he’s not a leaker, let him do that.”

And Trump’s new hire did acknowledge there was tension in the West Wing, saying he wasn’t sure if the spat over leaks “is reparable or not, that will be up to the president.” 

He also compared his relationship with Priebus to biblical brothers Cain and Abel, though he did not specify which of them in his Biblical metaphor represented the brother who killed the other.

The feud escalated with the Thursday posting of a New Yorker story in which Scaramucci attacked Priebus in harsh and even vile terms. Taking again to Twitter, Scaramucci said, “I sometimes use colorful language. I will refrain in this arena but not give up the passionate fight for @realDonaldTrump’s agenda.”

I sometimes use colorful language. I will refrain in this arena but not give up the passionate fight for @realDonaldTrump's agenda. #MAGA

Priebus did not comment publicly Thursday, and White House officials downplayed the episode as the fruit of creative tension among strong-minded staff members – something the president encourages.

“The president, as always, enjoys healthy competition, and conversation, and he sees that as such,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

The new staff tension arising from the president’s decision last week to hire Scaramucci reflects a longtime rivalry in Trump world: the one between veterans who signed up early for Trump’s presidential campaign aides, and Republican National Committee officials brought in for the fall race against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Priebus chaired the RNC before Trump tapped him as White House chief of staff.

Staff infighting marked Trump’s presidential campaign and has followed him into the White House. 

Since his inauguration later more than six months ago, there have been several battles among staff. There’s been senior adviser Steve Bannon vs. Priebus. There’s also been Bannon vs. Jared Kushner, the White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law.

In each case, White House officials called news coverage overblown and stressed that Priebus, Bannon and Kushner all still have their jobs.

The latest battle began when Trump decided last week to hire Scaramucci — a prominent television surrogate for Trump during the campaign — as communications director.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who opposed Scaramucci’s hiring, promptly announced his resignation.

Priebus also objected, in part because Scaramucci reports directly to Trump, not to the White House chief of staff. Priebus and others thought Scaramucci was unqualified for the job, and had blocked him from previous efforts to join the White House.

Some analysts said Scaramucci’s hiring signals a possible purge, maybe even of Priebus himself.

Indeed, some bloodletting has already begun.

The days after Scaramucci’s hiring saw the departure of Senior Assistant Press Secretary Michael Short, a former RNC official who worked with the Trump campaign during 2016 and was brought into the White House by Priebus.

Officials said Trump still supports both Priebus and Scaramucci.

“We all serve at the pleasure of the president,” Sanders said.

Should that change, she added, “he’ll let you know.”

Yet Scaramucci’s tweet referencing in Priebus drummed up a lot of controversy on social media — a method of communication Trump himself prefers — and raised questions about the substance of his complaints. 

“In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept #swamp @Reince45,” he tweeted Wednesday night. 

However, the publication of his financial disclosure wasn’t actually a leak; the form is a public document available upon request.

Scaramucci later deleted the post and went on CNN in an apparent effort to smooth things over, though he acknowledged tensions with Priebus.

“We have had odds, we have had differences,” Scaramucci said of the man he called a brother just last week. “When I said we were brothers from the podium, that’s because we’re rough on each other. Some brothers are like Cain and Abel. Other brothers can fight with each other and get along.”

During the CNN interview that lasted more than a half hour, Scaramucci also said he and the president have a “very, very good idea of who the … senior leakers are in the White House.” He also suggested that news leaks about foreign policy deserve the death penalty. “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. 

He also protested reports that disclosed his Wednesday night dinner at the White House with the president and others including Fox News host Sean Hannity, calling it “absolutely, completely and totally reprehensible.” 

He continued: “As you know from the Italian expression: The fish stinks from the head down. But I can tell you two fish that don’t stink, and that’s me and the president.” 

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