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LAS VEGAS – Anthony Scaramucci walked into the backstage green room at the Bellagio Hotel, spotted Valerie Jarrett and spread his arms wide.
“I want to do a Joe Biden, but I know there’s air traffic control now and I don’t want to invade your personal space,” he said with a laugh.
“You are cleared for a hug,” Jarrett said with a huge smile, and the two embraced like brother and sister – the Trump administration flameout and President Barack Obama’s close adviser.
“The Mooch,” as Scaramucci is known, was in this city of spectacles this week as host and ringmaster of SALT, a glitzy, A-list investment conference that doubled as a political healing ground.
Scaramucci, fired from the White House in 2017 after a disastrous 11-day tenure, convened a parade of other jettisoned Trump administration figures, including Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, Corey Lewandowski and, most remarkably, Gen. John Kelly, the former White House chief of staff who axed him.
They mingled in the Bellagio meeting rooms with Obama-era figures such as Jarrett, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former CIA director David Petraeus and Adm. William McRaven, the former Special Operations chief who orchestrated the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Scaramucci appeared onstage with Kelly, in their first public appearance together since the firing, to talk about their newfound friendship. Then he sat beside Jarrett for another panel, in which they discussed topics including climate change and gun control and agreed as much as they disagreed.
“I think what they are trying to tell us is that it’s OK to be together,” said Robert Wolf, the Fox News commentator who moderated the discussion. “It’s okay to respectfully disagree. And it’s OK to agree on things we should agree on.”
Many in the crowd of nearly 2,000 investors, hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs applauded that kind of political diversity.
“Politics plays into the investment landscape big-time, and hearing it from both sides is important,” said Alex Gordon, sales director for a New Jersey-based investment business.
At Scaramucci’s conference, a sort of Davos in Vegas, leaders in finance, business, politics, media and entertainment debated the issues of the day. Parts of it were carried by MSNBC and Fox Business, and speakers ranged from former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to Mark Cuban, the entrepreneur, investor and “Shark Tank” TV star.
Discussions ranged from the future of private equity to business opportunities in the cannabis industry to how artificial intelligence is changing investing.
But permeating much of the conference was the lament that political dysfunction across the country and in Washington was bogging down economic opportunities in the real world.
“Whatever noise is going on on Twitter, there really are solid people, whether they are R’s or D’s, who just want a better, stronger, fairer country,” said Lynn Forester de Rothschild, an investment executive and Democratic Party supporter. “It’s admirable that Anthony can pull them all together.”
The conference was also a homecoming of sorts for Scaramucci, whose brief foray into politics after a career in finance made him a household name for all the wrong reasons and nearly cost him his marriage.
“I’m back to my roots. I’m being myself,” Scaramucci said while having his makeup applied early Thursday. He was sitting in his 29th-floor suite at the Bellagio, which looked out onto the Vegas Strip with its fake Eiffel Tower and to the russet desert beyond.
Scaramucci’s tenure as White House communications director – from July 21 to 31, 2017 – broke records for its shortness and made Scaramucci a punchline. His name is now an unofficial unit of time: Eleven days is one “Mooch.”
He was fired after a profanity-laced tirade to a New Yorker reporter in which he trashed other Trump administration figures in ways that were unprintable, and maybe even physiologically impossible.
“It was mortifying and humiliating,” he said, as a stylist blow-dried his hair before he would take the stage. “I made a rookie mistake in a major league game.”
He laughed that he was actually grateful to his friend the president: “Like I told Trump, you’ve made me as famous as Melania and Ivanka, and I didn’t have to sleep with you or be your daughter. So you and I are totally fine.”
Scaramucci’s wife, Deidre Ball, sat nearby eating scrambled eggs. She said she filed for divorce from Scaramucci while he was working on Trump’s campaign.
“He got so caught up in it that he went absent on me,” she said. “I told him, ‘Your priorities are upside down and you need to get your act together.’ But he didn’t listen to me. So I had to send him a wake-up call.”
She said they are now “better than ever,” and they collaborate on a podcast called “Mooch and The Mrs.”
“There’s something about being around a president, or a potential president,” she said. “You get kind of drunk on it.”
Added Scaramucci: “Your ego and pride go up, your emotions go up, and your intelligence goes down. It’s a cautionary tale.”
Since his White House crash, Scaramucci has written a laudatory book about his ex-boss: “Trump: The Blue-Collar President.” He has appeared on “Real Time with Bill Maher” alongside Stormy Daniels and has the selfies to prove it. He spent nine days in January as a cast member of “Celebrity Big Brother 2.” He said his “elite” friends looked down on his reality-TV gig.
“But last time I checked, we have a reality star as president,” he said.
Scaramucci has also resumed his role at SkyBridge, the multibillion-dollar investment fund he founded. The company gave SALT its original name: the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference.
“He’s back in his element,” said Steve Case, the entrepreneur, investor and AOL founder, who spoke at the conference. “And he has a certain humility and humor about his brief service in the White House.”
Said Forester de Rothschild: “This is Anthony’s environment. He’s happy here.”
Many big conferences are collections of like-minded people who either agree on politics or steer clear of politics. Scaramucci said he designed SALT to be a safe place to debate political opinions without vitriol.
“I want to put the ‘fun’ back in political ‘dysfunction,’ ” Scaramucci said. “To me, these people should figure out a way for four days to get along with each other.”
Onstage, Scaramucci said he supported Trump on many things, especially the economy.
Asked for his advice to Trump, he said: “The president has a short attention span. I would keep it to a bumper sticker. I would say, ‘Same policies, less crazy.’ “
But he said that didn’t mean he agreed with everything. He said he disagreed with labeling the press “the enemy of the people,” separating families at the southern U.S. border, trade tariffs and “the public rebuking of the Federal Reserve chair.”
There was considerable discussion at the conference about “inclusive capitalism” and “socially conscious” investing at a moment when capitalism is under attack because of rising income inequality.
But SALT still had all the trappings of a big-money hedge fund gathering. A large hallway was filled with displays for companies catering to the investment world, including Jet Set, which offers on-demand private jet rental.
The centerpiece was a massive Rolls-Royce SUV, named the Cullinan after the 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond from the British crown jewels. The car sells for $380,000.
This year’s SALT speakers included Carlyle Group Chairman David Rubenstein and Parkland shooting survivor and gun-control activist Cameron Kasky. Also, the founder of dating app Tinder and an accountant from the Cayman Islands, because who else would you invite to a hedge fund conference in Vegas?
As she prepared to go onstage, Jarrett said, “Anthony likes mixing it up, and he likes to have a civil conversation with people who don’t normally gravitate to each other.”
The panel’s moderator teased Scaramucci about calling Trump “the blue-collar president.” Scaramucci said he called his book that so “all the liberals would go crazy.”
He said Trump deserved credit for attracting blue-collar voters, but he also poked fun at his old boss.
“Trump’s born with a golden toilet seat under his heinie, right?” he said. “And if you look at Trump’s apartment on the Internet, it looks like Louis the 14th smoked crystal meth and decorated the apartment.”
Scaramucci said it was important for people to see that he can sit down with Kelly, who has kept a low profile since he left the White House.
When he called to invite him, he said he joked, “Last time we spoke, you did all the talking and I did all the packing.”
Onstage, Scaramucci playfully asked Kelly, “Is the president a ‘stable genius’?”
“I wouldn’t pass judgment on either one of those,” Kelly said.
Scaramucci asked Kelly, “Did you ever provide him feedback on his Twitter use?”
His response: “People have said, ‘You never controlled him.’ It was not my job. Control the president of the United States? ‘You never got him to stop using Twitter.’ I never tried to get him to stop.”
Kelly said Trump would sometimes say: “Hey, did you see that Twitter thing I sent out? What did you think?”
He said he told him, “Okay, you’ve made my life more complicated than it had to be today.”
The career finance guy and the career military man, who each found himself in the White House and was then fired, agreed on something else.
“Do you like politics, sir? Is it a fun job?” Scaramucci asked.
“No,” Kelly said.
“That’s one thing you and I can totally agree on,” Scaramucci said. “It completely sucks.”