Former President Donald Trump distanced himself Friday from a pre-Thanksgiving dinner at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida with Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and white supremacist Nick Fuentes, claiming he didn’t know the identity of the far-right activist who was unexpectedly brought along with the rapper.
“This past week, Kanye West called me to have dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Shortly thereafter, he unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about,” Trump said Friday in a statement on his Truth Social platform.
“We had dinner on Tuesday evening with many members present on the back patio. The dinner was quick and uneventful,” Trump said. “They then left for the airport.”
On Saturday, Deputy White House Press Secretary Andrew Bates denounced the meeting. “Bigotry, hate, and antisemitism have absolutely no place in America — including at Mar-A-Lago,” he wrote. “Holocaust denial is repugnant and dangerous, and it must be forcefully condemned.”
The president, asked by reporters for his reaction, responded, “You don’t want to hear what I think.”
A person familiar with the dinner conversation who is not involved in Trump's presidential campaign and two Trump advisers briefed on the dinner corroborated Trump's claim that he didn't know Fuentes' identity when they dined together. The three sources spoke on condition on anonymity given the nature of the controversy.
But despite Trump suggesting that the event was “uneventful,” the fallout over his dinner with Fuentes appears to have thrown Trump’s campaign into damage control mode. The former president took hours to respond publicly after multiple media outlets reported that Fuentes was present at the dinner.
Even the two Trump advisers winced at how a Holocaust denier like Fuentes was able to wind up with Trump at dinner — even if it was by mistake — along with the rapper, who had just had his Twitter account restored but lost major endorsement deals for making antisemitic remarks.
"This is a f---ing nightmare," said one longtime Trump adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of stoking the former president's ire at "disloyal" people who criticize him. "If people are looking at [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis to run against Trump, here's another reason why."
All three sources familiar with the dinner told NBC News there was one glaring inaccuracy in Trump’s statement: Trump knew one of the three “friends” brought by the rapper, Karen Giorno. She was the Trump campaign's Florida director in 2016 and the former president knows her by name and sight, the sources said. In addition to Giorno and Fuentes, Ye also brought along another man who was an associate, according to the sources.
The source familiar with the dinner conversation said the dinner grew heated after Ye — who announced another run for president in 2024 on Thursday — asked Trump to be his running mate. Trump then began insulting Ye’s ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, according to the source and a video that Ye posted to Twitter on Thanksgiving Day recounting the dinner.
The source also said Fuentes is helping to advise Ye in his second presidential campaign. The rapper has said the campaign would be managed by Milo Yiannopoulos, a far-right provocateur and former Breitbart editor who was banned from Twitter in 2016 for inciting a racist campaign against comedian Leslie Jones.
Ye, Fuentes and Yiannopoulos declined to comment on the dinner.
Details about the dinner began to emerge on Twitter Wednesday when a Politico reporter tweeted that Ye and Fuentes had been spotted at Mar-a-Lago. The conservative website Timcast confirmed Fuentes's presence at the dinner, followed by Axios.
The porous nature of Mar-a-Lago, where anyone with connections can run into Trump, has long been a concern of his advisers. It’s also helped land Trump in the sights of a federal investigation after the FBI in August executed a search warrant at the club in search of documents marked classified that the federal government says Trump should not have possessed.
Trump’s statement on Truth Social did not disavow antisemitism or racism, but his campaign in a follow-up message pointed to Trump’s support of Israel, the Abraham Accords Middle East peace deal his administration reached and his opposition to antisemitism in Iran.
But Trump has also embraced antisemitic tropes and figures, implying that American Jews have dual loyalty to Israel and saying that there were "very fine people on both sides" at the white supremacist "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Fuentes attended that event, and after Trump said he denounced white supremacy at the rally, Fuentes denounced him for that.
In his video debrief, Ye said that “Trump is really impressed with Nick 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 [for Trump].”
The source independent of Trump’s campaign said Trump had planned to dine privately with Ye at Mar-a-Lago’s library, but he then said they should eat outside on the public patio. The former president also invited the others along.
The subject of racism and antisemitism didn’t come up, and Fuentes “presented as statistician. He was very knowledgeable of polls and Trump’s campaign. Trump was very impressed but Trump didn’t know who he was,” the source said.
Trump asked Fuentes about his 2024 announcement speech the week before and Fuentes criticized Trump for being too "teleprompter" scripted and having low energy, the source said. Fuentes and West, the source added, also said Trump should have issued a blanket pardon for everyone involved in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, which Ye’s video debrief also mentioned.
Trump also mentioned his adviser, Jason Miller, to Fuentes, who criticized the veteran operative for now running the social media site Gettr, which has banned Fuentes, according to a copy of a group text message exchange that Ye posted to Twitter Thursday.
Trump’s Truth Social platform, however, has verified Fuentes as a notable user.
At a certain point, the conversation turned tense and Trump began making his critical remarks about Ye’s ex, Kardashian. “That’s the mother of my children,” Ye protested, according to his video debrief.
Trump then grew animated about Ye challenging him. “You’re not going to win. You can’t beat me,” Trump told Ye, the source said. “Nick, you work for the guy, and just because you work for him, you’re going to tell him he can beat me? You just got finished telling me I was the best president ever.”
Ye said in his video debrief that Trump was angry.
“When Trump started basically screaming at me at the table telling me I was going to lose, I mean, has that ever worked for anyone in history?” the rapper said. “I’m like hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, Trump. You’re talkin’ to Ye.”