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Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (left) with US Senator Marco Rubio during her visit to Washington. Photo: Twitter/Marco Rubio

US businessman Jeffory Blackard says fruitful meetings he arranged in the US for Croatia’s President gave her a head start on most world leaders when it comes to Team Trump.

Written by Sven Milekic | Published in Balkan InsightMagazine

US real estate developer Jeffory D Blackard told BIRN that he arranged productive meetings for Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic during her week-long visit to Washington earlier this month.

Blackard, surprised by media reports about her trip – about which the President’s office has not provided full information – Croatian consul in Los Angeles Sinisa Grgic asked him in December to “help arrange meetings with people close to President-elect Donald Trump”.

“The situation was that Croatian diplomats did not have many contacts with people close to Trump since no one believed he could win the presidency. “The consul gave to me a list of people the President wanted to meet and it happened to be that some of those people are my friends,” Blackard said. “The men she met are powerful guys and are close to Trump … I assure you that no head of the state has had such a jump on the new Trump administration,” he said.

Blackard claims that he arranged for Grabar Kitarovic to meet Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who ran for the Republican ticket in 2016 but lost to Trump, and Senator Ron Johnson, Chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee on Europe and regional security cooperation.

Blackard and Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic meeting in 2015. Photo: city of Zagreb

He arranged a meeting with Republican Congressman Lou Barletta, who, according to Blackard, was one of the first Republicans to endorse Trump. While Blackard took part in the meetings with all three of them, the Croatian President had a private meeting with former Republican senator Rick Santorum.

Santorum ran for the Republican candidacy in 2012 – losing to Mitt Romney – and in 2016, backed Trump after he and Rubio quit the race. Blackard supported Santorum’s 2012 candidacy and the two remained close friends. The Croatian President’s office had not commented on Blackard’s statements by the time of publication.

“She [Grabar Kitarovic] presented excellent communications skills. We all learned about your country that none of us knew. Johnson even promised a special meeting [of the subcommittee] on Croatia,” Blackard told BIRN.

He explained that they had discussed the issues Croatia faces, the situation in neighbouring countries and how to attract investment and open jobs in Croatia – “for which the mentioned politicians were interested”. Blackard said Grabar Kitarovic even got tickets to Trump’s inauguration on Friday, but decided not to go so that her next visit would be “an even more productive one”, once Trump is President.