- Donald Trump held a series of private meetings at his golf course in New Jersey with several loyalists over the summer.
- Visitors included people opposed to Covid mask and vaccine mandates and conspiracy theorists who continue to push the false claim that the 2020 election was rigged in favor of Joe Biden.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to media at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., July 7, 2021.Eduardo Munoz | Reuters
Donald Trump had more on his agenda than golfing this summer.
The former president held a series of private meetings at his golf course in New Jersey with loyalists, from people opposed to Covid mask and vaccine mandates to conspiracy theorists who continue to push the false claim that the 2020 election was rigged in favor of Joe Biden.
Many of the gatherings took place at Trump's National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. CNBC learned of their existence through reviewing social media posts.
Earlier in the year, Trump held multiple meetings with Republican leadership at Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Florida. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Rick Scott, as well as Republican National Committee heads and financiers visited the former commander in chief there.
Lawmakers who met with Trump in Bedminster this summer include House Republican caucus leader Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., Republican Study Committee Chair Jim Banks, R-Ind., and Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C.
Trump has continued to consider another run for the presidency and has continued wrongly claiming that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Multiple officials from both sides of the political aisle, including onetime Trump Attorney General William Barr, have said there was no widespread fraud during the 2020 election. Former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a recent interview that the election "was not rigged. It was not stolen. Donald Trump lost the election."
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to an email seeking comment before publication.
In a video posted to Instagram in late June, Trump is seen speaking to what appears to be a group of donors. Like the other videos and photos reviewed by CNBC, the social media post lists Trump's golf club in New Jersey as the location of the event.
After calling on certain supporters by name and thanking them, Trump goes back to the election and notes that it was successful despite his losing to Biden.
"It's been really an incredible period of time. We had a tremendous election. We did better the second time than the first," Trump tells the small crowd, claiming that his losing bid for reelection was better than his successful 2016 campaign. "Yes!" a participant says.
The video shows that one of the names the former president mentioned at the June gathering was Lewis Topper.
"Do you mind if I get you for a few minutes afterwards?" Trump tells the crowd in recollecting an apparent conversation he had with Topper just before the private meeting. "I said, 'Lewis, if it's important we're going to do it,'" Trump said in explaining whether he would actually end up privately speaking with Topper.
Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that a Lewis Topper runs a Florida-based fast food company and is also a longtime donor to Republican causes.
Topper did not respond to CNBC's request for comment on whether he was at the event. Federal Election Commission records show that he once listed a New York address and, during the 2016 election, contributed to Trump's campaign and an outside super PAC supporting the then-candidate.
Records also show that Topper recently contributed big money to the RNC, including a $100,000 donation in 2018. Topper also donated over $500,000 to the American Liberty Fund last year, a super PAC that spent over $1 million on the 2020 election, including just over $220,000 backing Trump, according to CRP data. The PAC also spent over $500,000 on far-right GOP congressional candidate Laura Loomer of Florida, who also lost her race.
A set of pictures posted on Twitter and Instagram on July 7 showed the former president meeting privately with those who have promoted the idea that the election was stolen from Trump.
Conservative YouTube personality Austen Fletcher posted on at least two of his social media accounts pictures of him, Trump and others sitting around a table in early July. His Instagram post said the meeting took place at the Bedminster golf course and each of the social media posts has the text: "Diet Cokes with the big man."
Fletcher, whose YouTube channel is titled "Fleccas Talks," has been a fierce opponent of Big Tech companies and what he believes is the censoring of conservative voices, like his own. The meeting took place the same day that Trump announced a class-action lawsuit against the tech giants of Facebook, Twitter and Google. Trump was previously banned from Facebook and Twitter. Fletcher did not respond to social media messages seeking comment about the meeting he had with Trump.
Fletcher is seen on stage with Trump and some others from the pictures of the meeting. Matt Schlapp, the chair of the American Conservative Union, who was also on stage when the former president made his announcement, confirmed to CNBC he too was part of the meeting but declined to say what was discussed. Schlapp previously announced that his organization was joining Trump on the class-action lawsuit against the tech firms. The ACU hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference where Trump has been a featured speaker.
A picture of the private meeting with Trump also shows lobbyist and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who later was also seen with Trump on stage. Bondi is a chair at the America First Policy Institute, which is run by a slew of people with ties to the former president.
Both Fletcher and Schlapp have previously tried to cast doubt on the election results.
Fletcher's Instagram page shows a post from Jan. 4 encouraging his more than 470,000 followers to attend the upcoming batch of post-election rallies that would later become known as the precursor for the deadly Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill. The attack on the Capitol took place while Congress was certifying the results for Biden's victory over Trump and has led to congressional investigations and hundreds of arrests.
Fletcher's Instagram post highlighted three rallies that occurred between Jan. 5 and 6, including the one featuring Trump in front of the White House where he called on his supporters to march on the Capitol. Fletcher writes in his post "Who else is heading to DC to STOP THE STEAL?"
In a video posted to Rumble on Jan. 8, Fletcher is seen interviewing various people marching on Capitol Hill. The first clip of the episode shows protestors cheering "Fight for Trump."
In the first interview, Fletcher is seen speaking with a Trump supporter baselessly claiming that the election was fraudulent. The video later shows scenes of the Capitol being attacked and one of the final people shown interviewed says she hopes Trump "fight[s] like hell."
This particular Fleccas Talks episode has garnered over 100,000 views, the most his channel on Rumble has ever seen.
Shortly after the election, Schlapp suggested he had evidence proving that in Nevada dead people voted, people from out of state illegally took part in the election and even kids were voting. Trump and his allies lost all of the election lawsuits they filed in the Silver State.
Later in July, Trump made a surprise visit to a cocktail party for a group titled Ladies for America First. It too was at his New Jersey golf course. Trump's former White House social media director Dan Scavino is also pictured with the event's participants.
Photos on Instagram show the gathering's itinerary, which notes that it took place on July 28 and that one of the featured speakers was a local county board commissioner who took part in the Jan. 6 rally but not the ensuing riot. The itinerary shows the party was also aiming to raise money for Love 146, a nonprofit that aims to combat human trafficking.
A YouTube video posted the day after the party shows that Trump's appearance surprised the Ladies for America First. In front of a cheering crowd, Trump took aim at many of his usual targets, including the press, Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and what Trump says is rising crime in Democratic-led cities.
Trump swung back to the election during his comments and falsely claimed that he won after the crowd itself yelled, "You won!"
"We did. We won, and we won by a lot," he told the cheering crowd. "You saw where they have votes printed out on false paper. They have ballots that are missing. They have more votes than they have ballots in some state," Trump later claimed, with no evidence at hand.
At the end of the clip, Trump gave one of his clearest indications yet that he is going to run for president when a woman says, "We need you back." Trump responds: "You're going to be very happy."
Days after the Ladies for America First event, Cawthorn posted a picture on his Instagram page of him and others meeting with Trump.
The post was dated Aug. 2. Cawthorn is one of the most conservative House members and has recently called people who were arrested in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot "political hostages."
Cawthorn seemed to tease a Trump run for president on his social media page. The congressman's spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on what was specifically discussed at the meeting.
"Incredible time discussing the future. Planning some major moves and a bright future for America. Phase one is election security and it's in the works," Cawthorn said in his Instagram post describing the meeting. "Phase two will begin after we take over the house and then the presidency in the coming elections."
Cawthorn has come under scrutiny, including by members of his own party, for recent comments he made that suggested people could get hurt if lawmakers don't listen to him and his constituents' demands on election integrity.
"If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, it's going to lead to one place and it's bloodshed," Cawthorn said at a Republican event.
Cawthorn has previously blasted a North Carolina district for mandating students to wear masks in school.
"The greatest threat to our children today does not come from Covid-19. It comes from woke liberals government officials like you who think they are all knowing and all wise," Cawthorn told county officials last month. He's also said Biden's Covid vaccine campaign could lead to people's guns being taken away by the federal government.
At the meeting with Trump, Cawthorn was joined by Rogan O'Handley, a lawyer who has more than 2 million followers on Instagram. O'Handley's Instagram page features a few posts that take aim at Covid vaccine mandates, including those being implemented by businesses across the country.
"States need to start banning mandatory vaccines required by employers and schools," O'Handley says in an Instagram post. "Your private medical conditions should remain PRIVATE!"
O'Handley did not respond to an Instagram message requesting comment on the meeting with Trump.