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    Monday, January 30, 2023

    Trump criticized for dining with far-right activist Nick Fuentes and rapper Ye

    Former president Donald Trump dined with far-right activist Nick Fuentes and hip-hop artist Ye at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., earlier this week, drawing intense criticism for associating with two figures who have promoted antisemitism and hate.

    Advisers to Trump privately acknowledged that the decision to host the Tuesday dinner, just one week after Trump launched his reelection bid, was a significant concern. One adviser described it as "horrible" and another as "totally awful." They and others in Trump's orbit spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.

    David M. Friedman, who served as his ambassador to Israel, publicly took Trump to task for consorting with the troublesome pair, tweeting that the former president was "better than this."

    The private dinner is the latest example of how the former president has courted individuals with extreme or racist views. Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, recently lost billions of dollars of net worth after businesses cut ties with him for repeatedly making antisemitic remarks. Fuentes, a political commentator on YouTube, has a history of touting white nationalist ideas.

    Ye posted a video Thursday to Twitter featuring far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos listening to the rapper recap his Tuesday meeting with Trump. The rapper, who has said he plans to run for president in 2024, said he asked Trump to be his running mate. Trump was uninterested, Ye said, but he was "really impressed" with Fuentes.

    "Nick Fuentes, unlike so many of the lawyers and so many people that he was left with on his 2020 campaign, he's actually a loyalist," Ye, who returned to Twitter this week after a recent ban, said in the video.

    Trump said he only planned to have dinner with Ye, who has repeatedly expressed his support for the former president. The rapper brought Fuentes along uninvited, Trump said.

    "This past week, Kanye West called me to have dinner at Mar-a-Lago," the former president said Friday on Truth Social. "Shortly thereafter, he unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about."

    "We had dinner on Tuesday evening with many members present on the back patio," Trump added. "The dinner was quick and uneventful. They then left for the airport."

    Trump has insisted to aides since Tuesday that he did not know Fuentes, a Trump supporter active on Truth Social, the former president's social media network, though some in his circle said they were skeptical.

    Karen Giorno, a former Trump aide who ran the then-candidate's Florida campaign in 2016 before becoming a senior adviser, said she arrived at the club in a car with Ye and Fuentes. She said she didn't previously know Fuentes and met him earlier that day for the first time. The group came in together past security, she said.

    A person familiar with the matter said Fuentes was not on the list but got in because he was a guest of the rapper.

    "There is no system now that he's not the president. If you're on the list, you can drive up to the gate, and for someone like Kanye West, he's going to bring his staff or other people with him in the club," this person said. "No one is carefully checking."

    Giorno said Trump greeted the trio: Ye, Fuentes and another man who she only knew as Jamal, alone without staff or family in the foyer of the club, and "graciously" told the rapper his group should join for dinner at his customary table on the patio. They were served a traditional Thanksgiving dinner - not on the menu - with Ye getting a second helping of stuffing.

    She said Trump "obviously" recognized her and the rapper, but did not seem to recognize Fuentes initially. A person familiar with the dinner said West introduced the 24-year-old as "Nick."

    Giorno said she sat to the president's right, while the rapper sat to his left, and Fuentes and another guest, Jamal, an employee at Boeing who interested Trump with talk about plane contracts, sat across the table, she said. The rapper took pictures with many members of the club, she said.

    Fuentes, host of YouTube's "America First" show, grew up Catholic in the Chicago suburbs before dropping out of Boston University. Since then, he's become popular with young conservatives critical of establishment Republicans for not taking hard-line positions on cultural issues. Fuentes attended the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville where a white nationalist killed an anti-racism protester, but has denied being a neo-Nazi or a white nationalist. He has expressed concern on his show about the U.S. population becoming less White, previously arguing that "dramatic and radical change" will bring "not-insignificant consequences, and not all of them good."

    Giorno said she did not hear Ye or Fuentes say anything that could be viewed as antisemitic or racist, but Fuentes did share his opinion on the former president's reelection campaign. Trump was quickly impressed by Fuentes and peppered him with questions, Giorno said.

    "He was impressed with Nick and his knowledge of Trump World," she said. "Nick knew people and figures and speeches and rallies and what surrounded the Trump culture, particularly when it came to the base."

    And Trump wanted to talk about his campaign, including those who would run against him in 2024, his announcement speech and how he was going to win. Fuentes told Trump that he preferred when he was fiery and off-the-cuff, particularly as it related to his announcement speech, Giorno said. Trump repeatedly talked about his base and young voters, Giorno said. Another person familiar with the dinner said Trump liked Fuentes because he flattered him and encouraged his most pugilistic instincts.

    "Did the president and Nick have a casual conversation about his past presidency, the announcement and style, and polling and prospects of other people coming into the primary, and what young people thought about him? Yeah they did," Giorno said.

    The casual dinner - which featured comments about celebrities, American politics and more - turned heated when Trump "started talking negatively" about Kim Kardashian, Ye's former wife, Giorno said.

    Tensions also rose when the rapper asked Trump to join his 2024 ticket as vice president, which he rejected.

    A person familiar with the dinner said it was "cordial until it wasn't." Trump grew loud and animated, the person said. "Everyone was paying attention," the person said.

    "It was strained," the person said, and wrapped after about two hours. "It ended cordial but tense," the person said.

    Trump's dinner with the two men drew criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.

    Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a political group that supports Jewish Republicans, challenged the former president and other political leaders to distance themselves from Fuentes and Ye.

    "We strongly condemn the virulent antisemitism of Kanye West and Nick Fuentes and call on all political leaders to reject their messages of hate and refuse to meet with them," Brooks told The Post on Friday.

    The former president "befriending" Ye and Fuentes is telling, Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) tweeted Friday. "Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are," Torres wrote.

    Even some of the president's usual allies were publicly critical of the meeting, including his former ambassador to Israel.

    In a tweet in which he referred to "my friend Donald Trump," Friedman wrote: "Even a social visit from an antisemite like Kanye West and human scum like Nick Fuentes is unacceptable. I urge you to throw those bums out, disavow them and relegate them to the dustbin of history where they belong."

    The Washington Post's Isaac Arnsdorf contributed to this report.

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