This is the story of what happened when a notorious New York City playboy not named DONALD TRUMP tried to replicate his act in Washington.
Few people are more intertwined with Donald and MELANIA TRUMP than PAOLO ZAMPOLLI. A onetime modeling agent, he represented Melania in her former career, then introduced her to her future husband at a party he hosted in 1998 at the Kit Kat Club. With a four-story townhouse in Union Square and a standing table at Cipriani restaurant in Manhattan, the 51-year-old Zampolli managed to become both a fixture on “Page Six” and an ambassador for the tiny island nation of Dominica to the U.N.
After Trump took office, Zampolli, one of Melania’s few close friends, spent multiple New Year’s Eves with the first lady and was a frequent visitor at the White House and Mar-a-Lago. In October 2020, he relocated from New York City to D.C. with much fanfare. A story in Page Six announcing the move noted that he would be bringing along a chef from Cipriani to cook at the $16 million mansion he rented on Foxhall Road.
But Zampolli’s high-flying, models-and-bottles lifestyle didn’t go over well with the tight-laced politicians and staffers with whom he sought to make connections.
He became known for his garish tastes and his affinity for entertaining “questionable folks,” as one attendee described them — lobbyists for disreputable industries and diplomats for countries with lackluster human rights records. Even the artwork on display caused offense: a photograph of TONY BLAIR scribbling on the Chilcot Report, a painting of BARACK OBAMA smoking, a photograph of GEORGE W. BUSH struggling with a Rubik’s Cube and multiple massive images of Trump.
That attendee and two others described the scene at Zampolli’s mansion — featuring a wine cellar, a sauna, a heated pool, a dance floor and crowds that skewed heavily toward older men and younger women — as too wild for the environs, especially during Covid-19.
But Zampolli told Playbook, “Every invite said social distancing is available. There’s a lot of room — the house was 14,000 square feet.” He added: “There were no [other] events, so there was no other place to go. People would come and bring other people. There would be five losers and one good one, and that was the concept. I was generous. I was feeding a lot of freeloaders.”
A FINAL FLEX BY MELANIA: Trump’s loss marked the beginning of the end for Zampolli’s stay in Washington. However, that wasn’t immediately apparent. In December, in one of her final acts as first lady, Melania persuaded her husband to appoint Zampolli to the prestigious Kennedy Center board.
Zampolli had big plans for the venerable institution, such as franchising it, setting up a PICASSO exhibit and using the rooftop for sports-related events. But so far, none of those things have happened. Instead, he carried on the way he lived in Manhattan, holding court five days per week at a standing table at Cafe Milano and hosting after-parties at his mansion.
During Trump’s final days in office, Zampolli had some influential outgoing White House staffers and close confidantes of Trump at his home for events. But shortly before a party to celebrate JOE BIDEN’s inauguration, he removed most of his Trump portraits on the advice of a friend. The party was lackluster, with not a single influential guest from the Biden administration in attendance, according to two attendees.
He was “sort of a man without a country after Trump lost,” said a regular at his parties.
Zampolli did host a “We are the Oceans” event at the Kennedy Center in June that was attended by Sen. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-R.I.), KATHLEEN KENNEDY, BROCK PIERCE, Organization of American States Secretary-General LUIS ALMAGRO and Portuguese Ambassador DOMINIGO TEIXEIRA DE ABREU FEZAS VITAL, among others.
MOVING OUT: But just a month later, Zampolli was packing up his house and heading back to New York. The move came after he ended a relationship in D.C. that threatened to ruin his family still living in New York. Zampolli is not married but has a partner of 17 years and a son.
In a series of text messages sent in July to a dozen lobbyists, business owners and other power players in D.C., he forwarded a screengrab of exchanges between himself and a woman, in which he described his sexual encounters with her in graphic detail. Zampolli went so far as to describe her as a “working girl” — a claim for which he offered no factual support and which several sources said was false. Zampolli himself now says he did not pay the woman for sex.
“Please stay away from my family, you are a pro, all [sic] city knows you are a working girl, since day one you said I had to pay you,” Zampolli said in one message to the woman.
The texts were shared with Playbook by multiple recipients.
The woman, whom we are not naming, said in a statement to Playbook: “Any accusations about me being a ‘working girl’ or that I trade ‘sex for money’ are entirely false. In no way, shape or form, did I partake in any exchange of sex for money with Paolo Zampolli. We had a brief consensual relationship, but I learned he was dishonest about the nature of his relationship with the mother of his son and no longer wanted to be involved or associated with him. He proceeded to verbally threaten me by saying false things about my character. I blocked him from all form of communications.”
Zampolli, for his part, told us he “truly felt blackmailed, and that she was somebody who wanted to hurt my family.” He said he was warning his friends about the woman in case she tried to do the same to them.
‘THIS IS NOT NEW YORK’: His texts were met with silence by the recipients. Now, his former friends say they’re relieved that Zampolli — who remains one of the few Trump appointees to a board who has not been asked to step down — left town.
“He was the continuation of Trump’s Sodom and Gomorrah,” said one of Zampolli’s friends who was on the text chain. “I told Paolo many times to cool off, this is not New York.”
Zampolli told Playbook he left D.C. because his lease expired, and there were fewer people to meet in the city since they left town for their summer breaks.
“I did not run away from this girl,” he said.
He had one last word: “Why did you get this tip three months later? Because there’s no more free food and free booze. They have nothing to do.”
IS KLAIN TOO TWITTERLIFIC? — Former chiefs of staff to Obama and Bush agree that RON KLAIN may be spending too much time on Twitter while managing the leader of the free world.
“I’m both impressed and unimpressed that he gives a significant amount of his time to that,” Bush’s chief of staff JOSH BOLTEN told me at a “Hail to the Chiefs of Staff” event for American University’s Sine Institute of Policy and Politics this week. “I would never have done that and frankly I don’t know how he does it.” Bolten warned that an “errant tweet” from the chief of staff could throw a news cycle spinning in the wrong direction. Just Wednesday, Klain was criticized after retweeting a post that called inflation a “high class problem.”
Obama’s former chief of staff, JACK LEW, said he saw the value in communicating via Twitter because that’s how so many people get their news, but he added that it should be used in moderation. “I personally think senior officials should have mediated social media presences, if they have them at all, and avoid getting into the back and forth,” Lew said. But if there is a spat, Lew said Klain can handle the heat. “Ron is as good of a debater as you’re going to find.”
By the way: Press secretary JEN PSAKI was asked if she’s concerned about Klain’s tweeting at Thursday’s briefing and said, “It is not a top priority.”
MEET ‘THE LOBBYIST HUNTER’ — “Somebody’s gotta do it. It might as well be me.” So says IVAN ADLER, the “lobbyist hunter” who plucks D.C.’s most idealistic Hill staffers and turns them into K Street top dogs. POLITICO’s Hailey Fuchs and Ryan pry open the revolving door between the Hill and K Street — one of the most controversial but everlasting features of Washington’s underbelly. Listen and subscribe to Playbook Deep Dive … More from Hailey
— 9:30 a.m.: The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief.
— 11 a.m.: Biden will leave the White House for Hartford, Conn., arriving at 12:40 p.m. via Windsor Locks.
— 1:45 p.m.: Biden will deliver remarks about his agenda, focusing on child care.
— 2:35 p.m.: Biden will leave Hartford for Storrs, Conn., where he’ll speak at the dedication of the Dodd Center for Human Rights at the University of Connecticut at 4 p.m.
— 5 p.m.: Biden will leave Storrs, eventually getting back to the White House at 7 p.m.
Principal deputy press secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE will gaggle on Air Force One on the way to Connecticut.
THE SENATE and THE HOUSE are out.
RECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES — CNN’s Manu Raju breaks down the latest red flags for Democrats’ agenda coming from Sens. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-Ariz.) and JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.). They include: Sinema still saying she might not back the reconciliation bill until the House passes the infrastructure bill; neither one guaranteeing they’d support a roughly $2 trillion compromise price tag; and Manchin opposing Medicare expansion and paid family/medical leave provisions.
— Siren: “And perhaps what could emerge as the biggest sticking point: Manchin roundly rejected calls by Democrats to include aggressive climate measures — namely to substantially slash greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. He said the goal laid out by the White House to cut greenhouse emissions by half in that timeframe simply would not happen.”
SINEMATOGRAPHY — The Daily Beast’s Sam Brodey reports that Sinema is increasingly isolated from longtime allies and friends who helped her rise to power over the past decade.
THE WHITE HOUSE
UPPING THE PRESSURE — Per NBC’s Shannon Pettypiece, “White House officials are signaling to Congress that the time is running short for negotiations over President Joe Biden’s infrastructure and social spending packages and that they want a deal to get done quickly.”
WHO’S AT DEFAULT — The next debt ceiling deadline is less than two months, and Chris Cadelago reports that White House officials are banking on Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL again stepping back from the brink, even as Hill Democrats worry about disaster.
TREND WATCH — Democrats are pinning some of their midterm hopes on vaccinated Republicans who are getting fed up with unvaccinated America, report McClatchy’s Alex Roarty and Michael Wilner. Seeing the frustration in focus groups, party strategists are eyeing this group as one way to make and maintain inroads among moderate suburbanites, though “appeals to them will only go so far to fix a myriad of issues plaguing the White House.”
GOOD NEWS FOR THE GOP — New Gallup polling finds that a majority of Americans now think the government is doing too much, not too little. That’s a big shift from just a year ago, when the share of Americans who wanted the government to do more to solve problems reached a record high.
REDISTRICTING ROUNDUP — As West Virginia’s House delegation shrinks from three seats to two, Reps. DAVID MCKINLEY and ALEX MOONEY will go head to head to remain in Congress. The state legislature passed a new map Thursday, and both Republicans announced they’ll seek reelection, making for the first battle of two incumbents in the midterms so far. More from the West Virginia Gazette-Mail and our own redistricting expert Ally Mutnick
VA. GOV RACE
FLAG DAY — The main story in the Virginia gubernatorial campaign Thursday was GLENN YOUNGKIN disavowing a flag used at the Capitol insurrection to which GOP rally attendees pledged allegiance the day before. Democrats are trying to use the Trumpy event — which Youngkin didn’t attend — as a cudgel against him. The Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Mel Leonor has the latest.
INFLATION WATCH — Skyrocketing prices are threatening to snowball from a simmering economic issue into a political landmine as the “spike now appears to be on track to persist deep into 2022, when midterm elections will determine who controls Congress,” Megan Cassella reports.
SHORT SUPPLY — Don’t expect the nation’s (and the world’s) supply chain issues to be resolved by the holiday season, experts told Reuters’ Nandita Bose and Lisa Baertlein. Despite efforts this week by the Biden administration, “the White House’s impact may be incremental at best, logistics experts, economists and labor unions warned.”
SCOTUS WATCH — A divided commission studying Supreme Court reform released draft findings Thursday that found expanding the number of justices would be legal but warned it could further politicize the court. “Members of the commission formed by President Joe Biden appeared more positive about the benefits of imposing term limits and staggering appointments out over time,” Reuters writes. “But they noted it might not be possible to make such a change without amending the U.S. Constitution.”
— Another focus of the commission: improving the confirmation process. Josh Gerstein reports that changes to the Senate rules and timelines for Supreme Court nominees could be lower-hanging fruit, though the commission wasn’t sure if that fit in its remit.
THE BIG PICTURE — WaPo’s Josh Dawsey and Michael Scherer take stock of Trump’s week, as he “moves to assert his dominance” in the Republican Party and focus its energy and agenda on his lies about the 2020 election. Party strategists were cringing as they saw Trump diverting attention from messaging they believe would be more successful in the midterms. In private comments Thursday that the reporters obtained, Trump boasted, “It was a dying party, I’ll be honest. Now we have a very lively party.” And he blasted Sens. MITT ROMNEY (R-Utah) and BEN SASSE (R-Neb.).
PLAYBOOK FASHION SECTION — NYT’s Astead Herndon turns his sartorial sights on Trump rallies, where some supporters find that “their attendance also requires wearing something that mimics some of his political calling cards — mocking his political opponents, using vulgar language and openly embracing political incorrectness. At some events, I’ve seen people with particularly crass T-shirts hold their own photo lines, as others queue for selfie after selfie.” With pics of some Virginia attendees
TV TONIGHT — PBS’ “Washington Week”: Eugene Daniels, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Stephanie Ruhle and Jonathan Karl.
SUNDAY SO FAR …
“The Sunday Show”: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) … Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) … Terry McAuliffe … Annissa Essaibi George … Joe Walsh.
“Fox News Sunday”: Anthony Fauci. Panel: Karl Rove, Kristen Soltis Anderson and Mo Elleithee. Power Player: Pat Robertson.
“Full Court Press”: Federal Maritime Commission Chair Daniel Maffei … Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.).
“This Week”: Panel: Jonathan Karl, Rick Klein, MaryAlice Parks and Stephanie Ramos.
“Inside Politics”: Panel: Toluse Olorunnipa, Melanie Zanona, Jeff Mason and Jackie Kucinich.
“Meet the Press”: Panel: Kimberly Atkins Stohr, Garrett Haake, John Podhoretz and Amy Walter.
Bill Clinton was hospitalized with non-acute sepsis that developed from a urological infection, but is reportedly doing OK.
Michael Grynbaum is writing a book on the history of Condé Nast for Simon & Schuster, called “Empire of the Elite.”
PLAYBOOK METRO SECTION — There’s a sad ending to the escaped zebras story: One of the animals was found dead last month in Maryland, officials said Thursday. Two are still at large. More from Fox 5
SHOR, LET THEM HAVE COLUMBUS DAY: On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we asked playfully what political wunderkind David Shor thinks of the newly recognized holiday. So, after climbing up a ladder to the rooftop of his Bowery Street loft in downtown Manhattan on Thursday for one of his regular happy hours, I cornered Schor to get his take. Schor — who’s warned that excessive wokeness is a real problem for Democrats — said he’s actually happy to see Republicans take up the mantle of defending Columbus Day because it’s not a political winner. “The origin of Columbus Day was trying to appeal to the ethnic Italian vote, [and] that’s not as important [a voting] bloc as it used to be,” he said. “I think that’s a dumb fight for [Republicans] and I’m glad to see them getting into it.” Also on the rooftop: Lenny Bronner, Sean McElwee, Suraj Patel, Rabyaah Althaibani and Andrew Goldston.
SPOTTED at a big-dollar event for Terry McAuliffe on Thursday on the Greenberg Traurig rooftop: Joe O’Neill, Tom McMillen, LuAnn Bennett, Scott Pastrick, Joe Crowley, Jim Moran, Jim Free, Julie Chase, Peter O’Keefe and Tommy Quinn.
SPOTTED at a farewell party for Bloomberg’s Craig Gordon, who’s heading to a new role in New York, at Yardbird on Thursday night: Anna Palmer and Patrick Mellody, Nick Johnson, Molly Mitchell, Scott Mulhauser, Samantha Boyd, Marty Shenker, Mike Shepard, Hilary Rosen, Tammy Haddad, Juleanna Glover, Jennifer Jacobs, Steve Clemons, James Hooley, Tom Keene, Frank Coleman, Sam Feist, Sara Forden, Saleha Mohsin, Daniel Lippman, Scott Lanman and Laura Litvan.
SPOTTED at the second annual virtual Global Inclusive Growth Summit on Thursday hosted by Mastercard and the Aspen Institute, at which organizers announced 10 new programs and more than $54 million in “investments to promote economic opportunity and support bottom-up growth in communities across the United States and around the globe”: VP Kamala Harris, former President Bill Clinton, Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Brian Deese, Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Will Hurd, Mike Froman, Michael Miebach, Ajay Banga, Shamina Singh and Dan Porterfield.
STAFFING UP — The White House announced several new nominations, including Christopher Hill as ambassador to Serbia, Ravi Chaudhary as assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, energy and the environment, Ann Phillips as administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration at DOT and Enoh Ebong as director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.
TRANSITIONS — Valerie Smith Boyd is now director of the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition. She most recently was at Zenith Global Partners and is a DHS, CBP and White House alum. … Sasha Galbreath is now comms director for Rep. David Trone (D-Md.). She previously was an account supervisor at the Clyde Group and is a Dutch Ruppersberger alum.
WEEKEND WEDDINGS — Abe Sutton, an investment professional at Rubicon Founders and a Trump White House alum, and Leora Huebner, who’s leaving Microsoft and starting as a software engineer at health care startup Ophelia, got married Sunday at Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation in Old Westbury, N.Y. Rabbi Joey Beyda, Sutton’s cousin, officiated. Pic … Another pic … SPOTTED: Brian Blase, Brady Brookes, Marcus Bonvillian, Austin Smith, Adam Boehler and Nataliya Langburd Wright.
— Jayne Visser, CEO/founder of consulting firm ADEPTA, and Graham Harper, head of public policy and market structure at investment firm DRW, got married Sunday by Bruce Gates in a small ceremony at the National Arboretum surrounded by family and a handful of best friends. Pic … Another pic … SPOTTED: John Boehner, Jack Evans, Mike and Jill Sommers, John Milne, Bo Chambliss, Kristin Smith, Dan McCarthy, Ashley Davis, Jack Davies and Kay Kendall, and Damir and Amra Fazlic.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Kate Renz, director of government and regulatory affairs at Pitney Bowes and a Bruce Poliquin alum, and Brandon Renz, director of federal legislative affairs at Ameren and a Virginia Foxx alum, welcomed Clara Elizabeth-Gale Renz on Tuesday morning. She joins big brothers Cole and Hunter. Pic
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: NBC’s Jon Allen … Lis Smith … POLITICO’s Heather Caygle … the White House’s Erica Loewe … Jenni Pierotti Lim … Brian Walsh of Red Elephant Strategy … John Doty of House Judiciary/Rep. Jerry Nadler’s (D-N.Y.) office … Liz Kenigsberg of SKDKnickerbocker … John “J.B.” Byrd of Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies … Jose Villalvazo of Sen. Alex Padilla’s (D-Calif.) office … Casey Harper of The Center Square … Rotimi Adeoye of the ACLU … Holly Arthur … Christy Setzer of New Heights Communications … Katelyn Schultz of Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) office … John Martin of Smith & Nephew (4-0) … Nippon TV’s Takaaki Abe (49) … Jack Harrington of Direct Persuasion … Susan Ralston … former Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and Jim Leach (R-Iowa) … Haim Saban … Bill Hoagland … Doug Poretz … Gigi Stone Woods … Matt Gannon … Alexis Krieg of the Omidyar Network … Liz Sears Smith of Kent Strategies … Stu Loeser … Stat’s Rick Berke … Ken Griffin … Anna Farías
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