Trump ambassador pick made a big donation to Mar-a-Lago gala right after he was nominated

Yvette Cabrera

Yvette Cabrera Investigative Reporter, Think Progress

Shortly after President Donald Trump nominated Leandro Rizzuto Jr. as ambassador to Barbados, the Florida business executive promised to give thousands of dollars for an upcoming gala at the president’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, according to a Washington Post report published Thursday.

Rizzuto and his wife pledged the donation, which may be as high as $25,000, in mid-January to the Trumpettes USA gala scheduled for 2019. Two weeks prior to the donation, Trump nominated Rizzuto to be ambassador to Barbados and a handful of other Caribbean nations.

Most if not all of the money raised for the gala by the Trumpettes, a Palm Beach-based socialite group, is funneled to Mar-a-Lago, not for charity, according to the Post.  

Earlier this month, CNN uncovered that Rizutto had peddled fringe conspiracy theories and unfounded attacks on Trump’s political opponents during the 2016 presidential election. Rizzuto spread smears about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and his wife Heidi, as well as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), according to a CNN review of Rizzuto’s Twitter account.

Among the unfounded claims that Rizutto promoted on Twitter:  

  • That Ted Cruz was unfaithful to his wife  
  • That Heidi Cruz was a leading member in an effort to combine the governments of the United States, Canada and Mexico.
  • Rizzuto told Cruz to “go back to Canada.”
  • Rizzuto called Hillary Clinton “a terrorist with amnesia.”

Meanwhile, across the globe in India, Donald Trump Jr., spent the week on a private business trip that netted $15 million in real estate sales in just one day for a Trump Towers project after buyers were promised meals with Trump’s son, according to another recent Washington Post report.  

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee raised conflict of interest concerns with the trip, during which Trump Jr. is scheduled to give a foreign policy speech, alongside India’s prime minister and other high-ranking Indian government officials, at a global business summit.

Trump Jr. is executive vice president of the Trump Organization, the real estate business that President Trump still controls, and which has more business entities in India than in any other foreign country, according to the Post.

In an attempt to stem criticism about potential conflicts of interest, Trump Jr., who is not part of his father’s administration, said in a CNBC television interview on Tuesday that his father put curbs in place for which he doesn’t get credit.

“India, it has been an important market for us, but again there is this opportunity cost of the deals that we are not able to do that don’t get discussed,” Trump Jr. said. “We could do so many more but we are not doing those.”

Yet, in India, the Trump name was clearly good for the company’s bottom line. Reuters reported that Trump Jr.‘s partners in India played up the Trump brand prior to his visit, placing ads in India’s newspapers to attract buyers for luxury flats in a Trump Towers project.

The ads promised buyers the opportunity to rub shoulders with Trump’s son by joining him for a “conversation and dinner,” according to Reuters.  

Ethics officials and government watchdog organizations continue to call for Trump to divest himself of assets that can lead to conflicts of interest. One of those groups, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics [CREW] in Washington, D.C. chronicled instances in which government and special interests interacted with the president’s private businesses during Trump’s first year in office, and found more than 500 instances of potential conflicts of interests.

CREW found that “those who patronize President Trump’s businesses have, in fact, gained access to the president and his inner circle. Indeed, it appears that at least some of those guests are trying to use that access to exert influence.”

In Florida, the Trumpettes founder, Toni Holt Kramer, dismissed the idea that Rizzuto’s donation might be connected to his nomination as ambassador, according to the Washington Post.

“Oh, God, no,” Kramer told the Post. “They’re not doing it because they want to be in good graces with the president. They’re doing it because they want this country to run right.”

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Reposted from Think Progress

Posted In: Allied Approaches

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