Meet Le Pen's friends at Trump Tower
On 12 January, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen was spotted by photographers drinking coffee at Trump Tower in New York.
She suggested at the time that she wanted to meet with then US president-elect Donald Trump, but it didn't work out.
What few people know is that the night before, a cocktail party was organised in the same building to raise funds for her political party, the National Front (FN).
The party was organised by an Italian businessman George "Guido" Lombardi.
Lombardi, who lives in Trump Tower, has close links with the European far-right, especially Italy's Lega Nord. He says that he has been a friend of Marine Le Pen for 20 years.
"There were people [at the party] who were favorable to her, supporters, people who are friends of mine, entrepreneurs, at least three UN ambassadors, some political consultants and advisers," Lombardi told EUobserver in a recent phone interview.
He refused to give names but described the guests that came to meet Le Pen as "American businessmen, American representatives from Wall Street, Israeli businessmen, a couple of Russian businessmen, a couple of Asian businessmen, a couple of Italians, some French nationals."
The event, which EUobserver spoke to several attendees to gather details, was an indication that Le Pen and her party have tried to gather support from the new US president and his supporters ahead of the French presidential election on 23 April and 7 May.
"Marine has had friends for years at Trump Tower," Rosine Ghawji, the president of the Trump-France committee, told EUobserver.
She said that a "bunch" of Le Pen's friends came to the party, some of them who live in Trump Tower and "want to keep the privacy".
There was "good chocolate" and a “friendly atmosphere," she said. "Islam was a big issue, especially the danger from the Muslim Brotherhood."
Born in the United States to immigrant parents from Italy and France, and a former member of the US conservative Tea Party movement, Ghawji is a longtime friend and supporter of Donald Trump as well as of the Le Pen family.
"We love the way they talk about the love of their country," she said about the FN.
Ghawji said she preferred Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of FN and father of Marine, but that she supported the daughter, "as she is the only candidate" of the party to the presidential election.
On the pictures published on 12 January, Le Pen is having coffee with three men in a Trump Tower lobby.
The first one is Louis Aliot, her partner, and a FN MEP. The second one is Lombardi. The third man is Pierre Ceyrac, a former member of the FN and of Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.
"The National Front has been making very good contacts in the US for a long time," Ceyrac told EUobserver, adding that he accompanied Jean-Marie Le Pen several times to the US and Marine Le Pen in a previous trip there in 2003.
"She has a vision which is totally different from her father," said Ceyrac, who has known the presidential candidate for more than 30 years. "Marine is open to the world, she has a great humanist sensitivity."
"She is not antisemitic at all, not racist at all,” he said, adding: “It’s the same with her father, by the way.”
The 11 January cocktail party at Trump Tower "was really nice," he told this website.
"People were very happy to see Marine," he said. "There were Indians, people from Israel, Pakistan … Iranians. Wealthy people… A Chinese man who manages pension funds worth several billion dollars thought that Marine Le Pen was very nice."
The January US trip was one of several trips Le Pen made in recent months. She went to Lebanon in February, Chad in March, and on 24 March, she was received by Russian president Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.
Why not in the United States?
The FN is "looking for funding everywhere ... so why not in the United States?", Le Pen told Nova Burzoazie, a Czech media outlet that describes itself as an "alt-right news network".
The impact of her US trip, and how much money she could raise remains unclear.
Jean-Yves Camus, a French far-right expert, told EUobserver that he has heard about "a number of small meetings" organised by the FN in the United States, "without any doubt to collect some money".
He said that he was not aware of major contributions made by US citizens, but that "some people may be have given some money on their own capacity".
He noted that the influence of Trump supporters on the French presidential election was "zero," because "pro-Trump circles are extremely small in France”.
In November, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, Le Pen's niece and MP to one of the two FN seats in the French parliament, publicly expressed her wish to collaborate with Steve Bannon, the former editor of the US far-right news website Breitbart and now Trump's chief strategist in the White House.
But no meeting has taken place so far, and the French version of Breitbart, which was announced after Trump's victory, still has not been launched.
A week after the Trump Tower cocktail party, the Trump-France committee held a gala at Paris's Hotel Intercontinental to celebrate the president's inauguration.
VIP guest, Jean-François Cope, a former chair of the French center-right The Republicans party, did not show up.
But Bruno Gollnisch, a FN MEP, and Robert Menard, the FN-affiliated mayor of Beziers in southern France, dropped by.
Ghawji told this website that she had "personally" urged the two men not to come. "It was a party for the official members of the national assembly, for the members of the French-American committee," she said.
She said she was still angry that Le Pen's party didn't respect her wish: "You don't crash a party where you are not invited."
She said however that she considers coming to France to support Le Pen for the election.
Lombardi also plans to cross the Atlantic.
"This Vichy government in Paris needs a Normandy landing, a D-Day," he said, comparing the current French state with the regime that collaborated with Nazi Germany.
The article was corrected on 20 April at 14.30, to describe The Republicans as a center-right party, and not center-left as originally written.