Trump administration taps failed ambassador nominee who spread fringe conspiracies for diplomatic post

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The US State Department announced Wednesday that Lee Rizzuto will serve as the next principal officer at the US Consulate General in Hamilton, Bermuda, after his nomination for the ambassador post in Barbados was returned in January of this year and he was not renominated by the White House.

Trump had tapped Rizzuto for the ambassador post in 2018 but he failed to secure Senate confirmation. Now the administration has opted to circumvent the confirmation process by naming Rizzuto to the principal officer role, an announcement that prompted immediate criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill.

“It appears that the Administration has realized that they cannot confirm Lee Rizzuto to Barbados, so they are sending him to Bermuda instead. Outrageous,” a congressional Democratic aide told CNN on Wednesday.

CNN previously reported that Rizzuto, who worked as a senior executive at Conair, had amplified false allegations about Trump’s political opponents, including ones about Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and his wife, Heidi, on Twitter during the 2016 presidential campaign.

At the height of the Republican presidential primary, Rizzuto spread smears about Trump’s opponents, including Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, current Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a CNN KFile review of Rizzuto’s Twitter account showed.

Among the unfounded claims Rizzuto promoted were allegations that Cruz was unfaithful to his wife and that Heidi Cruz was a leading member in an effort to combine the governments of the US, Canada and Mexico.

In a now-deleted tweet archived through the Google cache and the social media site Favstar, Rizzuto told Cruz to “go back to Canada.” In another tweet, he called Hillary Clinton “a terrorist with amnesia.”

One tweet Rizzuto retweeted from February 2016 has a picture of Heidi Cruz with a headline that reads, “This Woman Should Scare the Hell Out of All Americans” and alleges that “Heidi is an architect of the North American Union (NAU), whose goal is to destroy the sovereignty of the United States.” It goes on to say, “If Ted becomes US President, it virtually ensures the dissolving of the USA and the formation of the NAU. This would put Heidi Cruz in line to become the First Lady–NOT of the USA, but of the new North American Union.”

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In March 2016, Rizzuto retweeted a user who shared an image of Romney that simply has the words “Dumb Ass” on it, and the user wrote that Satan had a hold on Romney and that he would go to Hell. The tweet was from the same day that Romney delivered a blistering speech critical of Trump.

Later in March, Rizzuto retweeted a person who falsely claimed that Cruz and Kasich were funded by Democratic mega-donor George Soros. Included was a picture of Soros with a caption that said: “George Soros the leader of their movement worked for Hitler helping kill his own people the jews.” The false allegation against Soros, who was a child during World War II, is common in fringe, right-wing conspiracy circles.

As principal officer, Rizzuto will lead a team “whose mission is to protect US citizens in Bermuda and deepen the strong economic and cultural ties between the United States and Bermuda,” according to the State Department.

Wednesday’s State Department press release touts Rizzuto’s record as a businessman and chairman of the Professional Beauty Association.

CNN’s Nicole Gaouette contributed to this report.

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