ON THE FBI’S list of documents seized from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, item 1a is listed solely as “info re: President of France.” For Trump, that has been a subject of intense — and tawdry — interest for years.
Specifically, Trump has bragged to some of his closest associates — both during and after his time in the White House — that he knew illicit details about the love life of French President Emmanuel Macron, two people with knowledge of the matter tell Rolling Stone. And the former president even claimed that he learned about some of this dirt through “intelligence” he had seen or been briefed on, these sources say.
It’s not clear whether the Macron-related document the FBI seized during the raid had anything at all to do with the French president’s personal life. Nor is it clear whether the information on Macron seized from Mar-a-Lago is derived from U.S. intelligence collection or even classified.
But the mere revelation of its existence triggered a trans-Atlantic freakout, according to two other sources familiar with the situation. And Trump’s prior talk about Macron’s allegedly “naughty” ways that “[not] very many people know” only intensified those concerns. Both French and U.S. officials worked to figure out precisely what Trump had on Macron and France’s government, and if any of it was sensitive in nature, the sources said. The officials in both nations wanted to know if this discovery signified some kind of national-security breach — or if it amounted to a frivolous, but stolen, keepsake.
A spokesperson for the French embassy told Rolling Stone that their inquiry had not included asking the Biden administration for information on the documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago.
In his musing on Macron’s alleged indiscretions, Trump was light on details and specifics, according to the sources. And as a notorious gossip peddler for decades, it’s difficult to know if any of what he says is grounded in reality. “It is often,” one of the sources says, “hard to tell if he’s bullshitting or not.”
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to questions from Rolling Stone.
Trump’s relationship with Macron has often been volatile, with the U.S. president once labeling his French counterpart “my guy” before the two fell out during Trump’s time in the White House.
Trump initially signaled his support for Macron’s 2017 presidential rival, inviting far-right nationalist Marine LePan to Trump Tower and praising her in interviews. But Macron shrugged off the flirtation with his rival and invited Trump as the guest of honor to a Bastille Day parade in 2017. Trump was so taken with the elaborate military pageantry on display that it inspired him to ask for a military parade of his own.
By 2019, tensions between the two men and their worldviews burst into the open. After disputes between the two leaders over Iran, Syria, and NATO, Trump could be heard blasting Macron as a “pain in the ass” to a White House gathering of international ambassadors to the United Nations. Trump’s former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham also wrote in a memoir that Trump had privately called Macron a “a wuss guy” and “a hundred twenty pounds of fury.”
And the latest incident isn’t the first time Trump has fixated on salacious gossip about the private lives of foreign leaders, associates, and hangers-on.
As Republican rivals J.D. Vance and Josh Mandel vied for his endorsement in the Ohio GOP Senate primary, Trump personally spread rumors he’d heard about Mandel’s sex life and described the candidate as “fucking weird.” And Trump’s decision to endorse Vance was nudged along by a rumor Trump heard from Fox News star Tucker Carlson about a prominent Mandel supporter’s allegedly “chronic” sexual habit.
During the 2016 presidential contest, Trump briefly ducked into his campaign “war room” and teased mid-level staffers with some alleged intel — on a pair of MSNBC hosts who weren’t yet public about their romance. “You know, nobody else knows about it, but I know about Joe and Mika’s little apartment in the Upper East Side,” he gossiped, referencing Morning Joe hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, whose long-running relationship would soon become public. “One day, I’ll tell you all about it.” Trump didn’t even know these campaign staffers’ names, but felt comfortable dishing this to them.
Trump’s fixations extended to foreign leader’s families, as well. Grisham wrote in her memoir that, after seeing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on TV aboard Air Force One, Trump once pulled her aside and made a crass assertion about the sex life of the Canadian prime minister’s mother — an assertion that left Grishham baffled.
In his conversations with his associates, Trump didn’t offer an explanation of how American spies acquired the supposed Macron dirt he claims to have seen. But the U.S. intelligence community has become much more cautious about spying on close allies over the past decade.
Revelations about American eavesdropping on former German Chancellor Angela Merkel prompted the Obama administration to severely restrict intelligence collection on allied heads of state. Under a 2014 directive known as PPD-28, the Obama administration forbade eavesdropping on the leadership of “close friends and allies” absent “a compelling national security purpose.” After reviewing the order in 2017, the Trump administration announced that it would continue to abide by the Obama-era orders.
Nonetheless, intelligence about foreign allies can still be swept up in the intelligence community’s broad collection of secrets through more incidental routes.
“While PPD-28 certainly constrained the degree to which the US would intentionally and directly collect on certain allied heads of state, there are plausible scenarios by which insights about them might be indirectly gleaned via collection against adversaries and their networks, human or technical,” one former Trump White House official tells Rolling Stone.