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He Threw ‘Spaghetti on the Wall’ for Trump. Now He’s After a Top Job.

He Threw ‘Spaghetti on the Wall’ for Trump. Now He’s After a Top Job.


Richard Grenell’s quest to be secretary of state in a second Trump administration started late on Election Day in 2020, when the defeated president dispatched loyalists to run shambolic “cease the steal” operations in battleground states.

President Donald J. Trump tapped Mr. Grenell — his combative former ambassador to Germany, performing nationwide intelligence chief and particular envoy to the Balkans — to fly by personal airplane to Nevada, the place Mr. Grenell ensconced himself, his canine Lola, legal professionals and a crew of activists in a set on the Venetian Resort, which served because the group’s struggle room in Las Vegas. In a days-long spectacle, the Trump staff filed a lawsuit and aired false accusations of fraud, together with one wrongly implicating tons of of members of the navy.

It was all a sham. Mr. Grenell advised the staff within the struggle room, two G.O.P. operatives recalled, that the Nevada vote was not, in actual fact, stolen. The operatives, who requested to not be named for concern of reprisal from Mr. Grenell, stated he advised the staff that the purpose was merely to “throw spaghetti on the wall” — the operatives described Mr. Grenell making a theatrical tossing gesture as he spoke — to distract the media from calling Nevada whereas the election battle in neighboring Arizona performed out.

In retrospect, one of many operatives stated, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol ought to have subpoenaed everybody within the room, together with the operative himself.

Mr. Grenell declined to be interviewed on the report, although he stated in an electronic mail that he was going to “do what I need with the ultimate product to appropriate the report and present the errors.”

This article relies on interviews with 40 folks, together with almost three dozen Republicans. Most requested for anonymity as a result of they didn’t need to hurt their possibilities of roles in a future Trump administration or to unleash the wrath of Mr. Grenell, who regularly savages these he disagrees with on social media. One Republican former operative stated that after a current disagreement, Mr. Grenell combed 5 years’ value of the operative’s tweets to gas a web-based assault that lasted for weeks.

To his detractors, Mr. Grenell is a caustic opportunist of modest achievement who scaled the heights of an administration through which pit bull partisanship was prized. Susan E. Rice, President Biden’s former home coverage adviser and a former nationwide safety adviser to President Barack Obama, has referred to as him “probably the most nasty, dishonest folks I’ve ever encountered.” Brad Chase, Mr. Grenell’s former enterprise companion, who fell out with him over his conversion to Trumpism, stated he was a “soulless, shameless sellout.”

To his supporters, Mr. Grenell is a loyal, tireless messenger for Mr. Trump who transmits the previous president’s calls for with an environment friendly bellicosity that stifles naysayers.

“President Trump trusts him as a pair of secure arms in deconstructing the executive state and confronting the deep state,” Stephen Ok. Bannon, the previous Trump strategist and host of the “War Room” podcast, stated in a short interview. “There’s a lot that’s acquired to be taken aside and jettisoned.”

Either manner, a number of folks near the previous president say that Mr. Grenell has a great likelihood of touchdown a prime international coverage job in a second Trump administration — if not as secretary of state, which requires Senate affirmation, then maybe as nationwide safety adviser, which doesn’t. They notice that Mr. Grenell has spent the previous three and a half years leveraging his Balkan contacts in enterprise ventures, together with with an necessary companion — Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law — and that he brings a bombastic bravado to American diplomacy held in excessive regard by the previous president.

“If you need to keep away from struggle, you higher have a son of a bitch because the secretary of state,” Mr. Grenell stated in a March episode of “Self Centered,” a present occasions podcast. America wants a “robust” chief diplomat, he stated, “who goes in to those tables and says: ‘Guys, if we don’t clear up this right here, if we don’t signify peace and work out a troublesome manner, I’ve acquired to take this file, return to the United States and switch it to the secretary of protection, who doesn’t negotiate. He’s going to bomb you.’”

Privately, Mr. Grenell has every now and then implied to former Trump administration colleagues that the secretary of state job has been promised to him, though two folks in Mr. Trump’s interior circle say such certainty from any job seeker is untimely.

One particular person near Mr. Trump stated the previous president has raised questions on Mr. Grenell’s communications work for international purchasers, prompted by Mr. Grenell’s Balkans work and a request from him final yr that Mr. Trump meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

Concerns over conflicts of curiosity may appear ironic coming from Mr. Trump, who used the presidency to learn his companies. But the particular person near Mr. Trump cited two conversations through which the previous president stated that he doesn’t like his advisers touring the world being profitable from their affiliation with him.

Still, Mr. Trump talks to Mr. Grenell repeatedly, and a yr and a half in the past was heaping reward on his pugilistic loyalty. “Ric Grenell: a fighter,” Mr. Trump stated in Arizona in October 2022. “We have an awesome, nice man. An awesome fighter. He’s acquired a variety of future.”

Mr. Grenell has since been busy within the Balkans. He has made plans with Mr. Kushner for a luxurious lodge, house advanced and museum in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, on the location of the 1999 NATO bombing that destroyed the headquarters of the Yugoslav Army. He can be creating two different luxurious vacationer websites, one on an Albanian peninsula and the opposite on a Mediterranean island off the Albanian coast.

“I’m engaged on initiatives, personal fairness initiatives, that I get to generate income on,” Mr. Grenell stated in a tv interview in Albania final yr. “No one ought to ever apologize for eager to generate income.”

Mr. Grenell’s connections to the Balkans additionally circulate by means of the right-wing outlet Newsmax, the place he’s an analyst and vp for worldwide growth. Last yr, Newsmax entered right into a multiyear settlement with Telecom Serbia, the Serbian state service, to broadcast Newsmax content material in Eastern Europe. Newsmax stated in an announcement that Mr. Grenell was not concerned within the negotiations over the deal.

Mr. Grenell has additionally teamed up with an arms vendor and former Newsmax pundit, John Cardillo, to discover ammunition manufacturing alternatives within the Balkans, in line with two folks they advised about their enterprise. Mr. Cardillo, whose firm is known as M42 Tactical, was not too long ago sued for allegedly pocketing almost $200,000 he was paid by a Ukrainian émigré, Michael Bogachek, to produce physique armor to police in Ukraine that was by no means delivered.

Mr. Cardillo agreed to repay the cash however has not, Mr. Bogachek’s lawyer stated. Mr. Cardillo declined to debate his work with Mr. Grenell, saying solely that “they have been personal fairness offers within the personal sector and had nothing by any means to do with any public curiosity.”

Mr. Grenell has labored exhausting to help not solely Mr. Trump but additionally his household. He helped Melania Trump safe $500,000 for 2 speeches on two consecutive days in 2022, together with one for Fix California, an election integrity and voter engagement group Mr. Grenell based in 2021. Last month, Mr. Grenell launched the previous first woman at a Log Cabin Republicans fund-raiser at Mar-a-Lago. He has publicly lauded Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka as the primary White House official to acknowledge Mr. Grenell’s standing as America’s first homosexual cupboard member.

In an episode not beforehand reported, Mr. Grenell proposed final yr an concept to underscore Mr. Trump’s complaints that the indictments sought by the particular counsel, Jack Smith, have been political. Mr. Grenell steered that Mr. Trump be a part of him on a go to to the previous Kosovo president and prime minister, Hashim Thaci, in jail in The Hague, the place he awaits trial on struggle crimes fees. Mr. Thaci was additionally indicted by Mr. Smith, who oversaw struggle crimes prosecutions in The Hague earlier than he was named particular counsel. Mr. Thaci has stated politics underlie the fees in opposition to him.

Mr. Trump didn’t embrace Mr. Grenell’s concept. An individual near Mr. Thaci stated he discovered the thought of Mr. Trump and a raucous media scrum in entrance of The Hague Penitentiary Institution amusing — however determined it might be greatest to deal with his personal case.

Mr. Grenell has posted options on social media that Mr. Thaci’s indictment was a Justice Department-led conspiracy.

Mr. Grenell’s path to the Trump White House was circuitous. He grew up in Jenison, Mich., graduated from Evangel University, a Christian faculty in Springfield, Mo., acquired a grasp’s diploma from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and held a half-dozen political communications jobs earlier than touchdown in 2001 on the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

There he served as spokesman for 4 U.S. ambassadors to the U.N., together with John R. Bolton, who later turned Mr. Trump’s nationwide safety adviser. Immersed in flooring debate and coverage conferences, Mr. Grenell fielded reporters’ inquiries throughout the fraught years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist assaults and constructed a repute for testy, generally explosive, responses to queries and tales he disliked.

Jobless after Barack Obama received the presidency in 2008, he ultimately based Capitol Media Partners, a communications agency that marketed a presence in a number of main cities. In actuality, Mr. Grenell and his enterprise companion, Mr. Chase, labored from their properties in Southern California. Mr. Grenell turned an early and vitriolic Twitter person who insulted journalists, celebrities and politicians. He denigrated the looks of ladies, together with two former secretaries of state — Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright — and the MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow.

Capitol Media had purchasers with pursuits in Iran, Kenya, Congo, Moldova, Afghanistan and Somalia, in line with archived variations of its web site. “An enormous quantity of it was media relations,” Mr. Chase stated. “Whatever the trigger was, we have been speaking it to each main stakeholder,” corresponding to traders, regulators and public officers.

In 2012, Mr. Grenell started a long-running animus with Ms. Rice, then President Obama’s U.N. ambassador. He helped tank her nomination to be secretary of state by mentioning her assist for Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, who was sponsoring violence within the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

That similar yr, Mr. Grenell and Mr. Chase pitched an Iranian dissident, Alireza Jafarzadeh, on a plan to pay them between $15,000 and $25,000 a month to “assist affect change for Iran” amongst elected officers and “different key audiences,” in line with a replica of a Capitol Media Partners proposal. Mr. Jafarzadeh was a Washington-based consultant for the Iranian resistance group often known as the Mujahedeen Khalq, or the M.E.Ok., which in 2012 was campaigning to be faraway from the State Department’s listing of international terrorist organizations.

There was already a crowded subject of American politicians working for the group, amongst them Rudolph W. Giuliani, who pushed the State Department to revoke M.E.Ok.’s terrorist itemizing, which it did in September 2012. It is unclear precisely what Mr. Grenell did for Mr. Jafarzadeh, or how a lot he was paid. Mr. Grenell wouldn’t remark, and Mr. Jafarzadeh would solely say in a current interview that he has had “no work-related relationship with Mr. Grenell for over a decade.”

Mr. Grenell’s subsequent cease was transient. In a stint as a international coverage spokesman for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential marketing campaign, he lasted solely two weeks amid scrutiny of his social media posts, essentially the most scathing of which he apologized for, and tons of of which he deleted. Though Mr. Romney’s advisers urged him to remain, Mr. Grenell give up, angering his allies on the marketing campaign, who say he solid homophobia on the far proper as the rationale for his departure, two of these allies stated.

Mr. Grenell started the 2016 marketing campaign as a fierce Trump critic: He referred to as him “harmful!” in a deleted tweet recovered by Politico and the cybersecurity agency Nisos. But after Mr. Trump received the nomination, Mr. Grenell turned a high-profile booster, aided by his work as a paid commentator on Fox News. That similar yr, Mr. Grenell’s firm was paid $103,750 by a basis principally funded by Hungary’s far-right authorities, and he wrote opinion essays, which he has stated have been unpaid, defending a Moldovan oligarch who was put underneath sanctions by the State Department for corruption.

By 2018, Mr. Trump had nominated him to be his U.S. ambassador to Germany. Within weeks of arriving in Berlin, Mr. Grenell drew condemnation from each side of the Atlantic after telling Breitbart London that he needed to empower European conservative leaders who challenged “the failed insurance policies of the left.”

Mr. Grenell’s feedback so obliterated the neutrality anticipated of a diplomat that Martin Schulz, the previous president of the European Parliament and a former chief of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, referred to as his conduct extra like that of a “far-right colonial officer.” In Washington, Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, deemed the remarks “terrible.”

Mr. Grenell plunged forward. He gave interviews about his canine, hosted gatherings within the embassy residence and on the 2019 Munich Security Conference appeared on a panel with Stuart Milk, the brother of the slain homosexual rights activist Harvey Milk, to name on some 70 nations to repeal legal guidelines that deal with L.G.B.T.Q. folks as criminals.

“It’s not lip service,” stated Miriam Richter, the Harvey Milk Foundation’s basic counsel. “It’s one thing he feels very strongly about.” (Other L.G.B.T.Q. teams have a a lot harsher view of his advocacy.)

In 2020, Mr. Trump named Mr. Grenell to quickly substitute the performing director of nationwide intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who Mr. Trump had fired. Senate Democrats responded by requesting that the Justice Department examine whether or not Mr. Grenell had violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, which usually requires that folks disclose work within the U.S. on behalf of international governments. The letter cited Mr. Grenell’s work for Hungary and the Moldovan oligarch, and famous that he had not registered underneath FARA.

It is unclear what turned of the request — the Justice Department declined to remark — however Mr. Grenell was by no means meant to be a everlasting intelligence chief. He was changed after three months by Representative John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican, who received affirmation after Democrats concluded that though he was as partisan as Mr. Grenell, he was far much less poisonous.

During his weeks within the put up, Mr. Grenell fired prime officers and oversaw a wave of doc declassifications geared toward discrediting the U.S. intelligence group’s evaluation of Russia’s pro-Trump machinations within the 2016 marketing campaign.

Mr. Trump was happy.

“I believe you’ll go down because the all-time nice ‘performing’ ever, at any place,” Mr. Trump stated at Mr. Grenell’s final cupboard assembly.

In late 2020, anticipating a diplomatic coup within the last days earlier than the presidential election, Mr. Trump dispatched Mr. Grenell on a mission that has flummoxed Western diplomats for a decade: To attempt to coax Serbia into recognizing Kosovo, a majority-Albanian former province, as an unbiased state. Mr. Grenell courted regional leaders, largely ignoring American and European Union diplomats who had labored on the difficulty for years.

Confident of a deal, Mr. Grenell proposed renaming an industrial reservoir bridging Kosovo and Serbia “Trump Lake” to memorialize his achievement. But negotiations failed after the struggle crimes tribunal in The Hague introduced plans to indict Mr. Thaci, the Kosovo president. Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, more and more fractious, nonetheless name the lake by two totally different names, neither of which is Trump.

Kenneth P. Vogel, Eric Lipton and Glenn Thrush contributed reporting from Washington. Kitty Bennett contributed analysis.



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