segunda-feira, 5 de dezembro de 2016
Donald Trump’s European fixer lives downstairs
Donald Trump’s European fixer lives downstairs
Guido Lombardi is the American president-elect’s neighbor, a Facebook organizer and his self-professed contact to Europe’s far-right parties.
By NICHOLAS VINOCUR 12/5/16, 5:33 AM CET Updated 12/5/16, 8:13 AM CET
Are you an ambitious European pol seeking an audience with Donald Trump?
Then George “Guido” Lombardi may just be your man — although there are no guarantees.
The Italian businessman is the president-elect’s downstairs neighbor at Trump Tower — he occupies the 62nd and 63rd floors. In Trump’s words, the two have been “friends for a long time.” To listen to Lombardi tell it, he is the president-elect’s closest European confidante besides Nigel Farage.
Lombardi, who describes himself as a real estate investor with rightward political leanings, said that throughout the presidential campaign he fielded calls from representatives of a veritable Who’s Who of the European Right, including French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, members of Austria’s Freedom Party, as well as the center-right French Républicains party who all wanted to meet with Trump.
“I’m in contact with just about everybody,” Lombardi, who is in his early sixties and emigrated to the United States from Italy in the 1970s, said in a telephone interview from New York. “When there is a high-level request, I pass it on. It may be to Eric [Trump], it may be to someone else. It may be to Donald himself. It depends on who, and what, it is.”
The National Front’s representative in the United States confirmed knowing and having spoken to Lombardi. “He is a go-between,” said Denis Franceskin. “He is part of the [Trump] network,” he said, adding: “Not the only one.”
Despite Lombardi’s dutiful relaying of messages, few requests to meet Trump have been granted so far.
Trump did meet Matteo Salvini, the chief of the Northern League to which Lombardi belongs, but Trump actually didn’t want to meet him, he said later. “I didn’t even know him,” he said, in an interview with the Hollywood reporter, adding that there was no “common ground to be explored with Europe’s far-right parties” and that he did not want to “establish alliances beyond the Atlantic.”
Last month, Orbán said the president-elect had invited him to Washington during a phone call. A source close to Orbán said the call had been set up via the Hungarian embassy, following preliminary contacts between the entourage of the then-candidate and the prime minister. The source said he was unaware of whether the initial contact had gone through Lombardi, who said he had been contacted by a “Hungarian national in Washington.”
Others cited by Lombardi as having contacted him declined to comment for this article. Trump’s campaign staff and family members did not reply to requests for comment.
Trump dropped by a meeting at his Margo-a-Lago club ‘dedicated to defending and advancing Western civilization against the kinetic and cultural onslaught of Shariah Islam.’
Trump’s skepticism about foreign parties — which does not extend to Farage of the United Kingdom Independence Party who has met him repeatedly — may explain why Lombardi’s lobbying efforts on behalf of Le Pen, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and others have fallen short, at least so far.
The National Front’s Franceskin said it was only a matter of time before Le Pen was able to sit down with Trump. “Have patience,” he said.
Regarding the request from Orbán, Lombardi quoted Trump as having said such a meeting would happen after the election: “‘I don’t mean any disrespect,'” he quoted Trump as saying. “‘I have a rule: No foreign leaders until after the election. I see this one, I have to see everybody.'”
Trump has a cold
The attempts by European politicians to meet Trump and bask in his iconoclastic aura, started when his campaign picked up momentum earlier this year.
In May, Le Pen’s parliamentary adviser, Ludovic de Danne, the former UKIP member Janice Atkinson and several other Euroskeptic MEPs traveled to the U.S., hoping to meet Trump. At the time, Lombardi acted as a sort of fixer, trying to get the group in front of Trump, members of the delegation confirmed.
The European delegation got as close as the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington D.C., where Trump was due to appear. The then-candidate never showed up.
“I told Donald, ‘I’d love to help. I will take care of all the crazies … There is no official connection so [no] liability.’ He said, ‘Great.'” — Guido Lombardi
Undeterred, the same group came back to the United States in November to see the election up close. Lombardi said he had helped organize the election night victory party at Trump Tower, to which both De Danne and Atkinson were invited. But Trump, who was following the election from his apartment and drinking Diet Coke, never came down to mingle with the guests. Secret Service had forbidden him, Lombardi said.
“He wanted to stop by,” said Lombardi. “Secret Service didn’t let him because they had not checked the room beforehand.”
Chief Facebook Officer
In addition to living downstairs at Trump Tower in Manhattan, Lombardi said he is a frequent guest at the Mar-a-Lago estate and boasts of a decades-old friendship with Trump.
Lombardi hosted a meeting at Trump’s Margo-a-Lago club of the North Atlantic League, which he told the gathered guests is fighting to defend “Judeo-Christian civilization.” The emcee was Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official who has campaigned for a hard American line against Islam and published a book entitled “Shariah: The Threat to America.” A logo of the United West, an organization that says it “is dedicated to defending and advancing Western Civilization against the kinetic and cultural onslaught of Shariah Islam,” appears in the corner of an undated video, which Lombardi uploaded onto YouTube in May. In an interview, Lombardi said he did not know when the event took place.
In the video, Trump can be seen stopping by the event, putting his arm around Lombardi and his wife, saying: “They’ve been my friends for a long time. They live in Trump Tower. We love them. They’re members of the Mar-a-Lago Club … I just want to acknowledge how good these two people are.”
While never officially on Trump’s campaign team, Lombardi said he acted as a helper and occasional adviser to the candidate, with whom he said he spoke frequently in private settings. In late 2015, Lombardi showed a French investigative news team a room in Trump Tower he described as the “campaign headquarters,” although no campaign representative was present at the time.
Besides relaying messages from European well-wishers, Lombardi’s main role, he said, was to run an unofficial, guerilla-style social media operation that aimed to amplify the candidate’s message online. At its height, Lombardi said the operation included sites and Facebook pages for many niche groups of Trump supporters such as “Bikers for Trump,” “Latinos for Trump” and “Veterans for Trump.”
“In June of 2015, I told Donald, ‘I’d love to help,'” said Lombardi. “‘But I can’t work directly for the campaign because I have all kinds of rules and regulations. I will take care of unofficial media. I will take care of students. I will take care of bikers. I will take care of all the crazies … There is no official connection so [no] liability.’ He said, ‘Great.'”
By the end of the campaign, Lombardi said he was curating some 500 online groups that were run by a network of volunteers. He said he had started some of them but did not specify how many.
It was not possible to verify this claim or Lombardi’s link to the websites. Several of the groups cited by Lombardi had garnered more than 100,000 “likes” on Facebook and featured pro-Trump memes and stories from little-known news sources. On CitizensforTrump.com, a disclaimer reads: “Created by grassroots citizens. Not authorized by any candidate, or candidate committee.”
Lombardi said he took no payment for his services and did not expect anything in return. But he did express faith in Trump’s memory for services rendered.
“He remembers details like you won’t believe,” he said.