WASHINGTON — A Massachusetts man is quickly becoming the second-most-talked-about member at Mar-a-Lago.
It began Saturday night, with a packed ballroom and President Trump in a familiar position: at the center of the attention. He and his wife dined with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan.
It was an attention-getting table, and before long, Stoneham businessman-turned-actor Richard DeAgazio decided to whip out his phone and take a few photos. He continued shooting photos as the tone of the room shifted when word of an international crisis spread among the guests.It was as if a tourist had been let into the White House Situation Room. And then DeAgazio did what tourists do, sharing what he saw with the world on social media, thus securing his standing as the exclusive club’s most infamous member.
One collection of images show Trump and Abe huddled with their aides, which DeAgazio wrote depicted the leaders after the news that North Korea had fired a missile.
“HOLY MOLY!!! It was fascinating to watch the flurry of activity at dinner when the news came that North Korea had launched a missile in the direction of Japan,” he wrote on his Facebook page, which has since been taken down. “The Prime Minister Abe of Japan huddles with his staff and the President is on the phone with Washington DC. The two world leaders then conferred and then went into another room for hastily arranged press conference. Wow. . . the center of the action!!!”
DeAgazio also posted a photo with a man who he wrote is responsible for carrying the president’s nuclear “football,” which allows the president to deploy a nuclear attack at any point. Both men are smiling wide in an ornate room.
“This is Rick,” DeAgazio wrote on his page before describing the nuclear codes that he has at the ready. “And Rick is the Man.”
Critics on Monday said the disclosures could damage national security. They pointed to not only DeAgazio’s photos but also the apparently haphazard way in which Trump gathered intelligence and figured out how to respond to North Korea’s provocation.
CNN reported that the conversations between Trump and Abe were conducted in full view of other diners. When documents were produced for them, aides attempted to illuminate them with lights from their phones, since the room’s candlelight was not bright enough.
Following repeated criticism during the campaign of Hillary Clinton’s handling of her classified e-mails, Democrats criticized Trump for conducting diplomacy like this in his private club.
“President Trump was frankly partly showing off for his country club guests and making this somewhat of a spectacle,” Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, said on CNN. “These sorts of important briefings between heads of state should be happening in a classified setting, not over cocktails and appetizers.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said no classified material was discussed publicly. Spicer said Trump was briefed before and after dinner, but during dinner Trump and US and Japanese officials were discussing plans for a press conference later that night.
Brian Burns, a member of Mar-a-Lago and Trump’s pick to serve as the ambassador to Ireland, told The Globe on Monday that he was unaware of any new rules at the club, including prohibiting taking photos of the president.
Photos of Trump at Mar-a-Lago surfaced throughout the weekend on social media networks, including videos of Trump addressing the crowd at a wedding that was being held at the club. But, the private details of DeAgazio’s photos — and his lengthy captions — seemed to result in the most attention.
Joan Quinn Eastman, a film producer based in Boston, said DeAgazio is one of her closest friends and any efforts to villainize him for the photos are “ridiculous.”
“The gentleman who is carrying the nuclear codes shouldn’t have posed for a picture with him,” she said. “He should have been directed to keep his identity anonymous.”
Eastman added that DeAgazio was Trump’s biggest cheerleader and remained confident during the campaign that Trump would win the election despite being surrounded by Democrats in Massachusetts.
“A greater patriot and a greater Trump supporter there could never be because he’s known Trump and been around Mar-a-Lago and he championed Trump the moment he announced his candidacy for president,” she said. “He was so ridiculed and every time people would say, ‘You’re crazy,’ and he just said, ‘You just watch.’ He was right.”
Trump even gave DeAgazio a personal birthday card this year, Eastman added.
DeAgazio, 72, is the retired president of Boston Capital Services, an investment firm, and has since become an actor. According to his page on the Internet Movie Database, he has appeared in “Ted,” “The Pink Panther 2,’’ and “Mystic River’’ in noncredited roles.
A graduate of Northeastern University, DeAgazio has also been a fixture on the Boston social scene, frequently appearing in the society pages. One mention has him at a 2008 New England Patriots playoff game that Trump also attended. He also serves on Northeastern’s Corporation, one of the governing boards overseeing the university, according to the Northeastern’s website.
DeAgazio could not be reached for comment, but he told The Washington Post on Monday that he joined Mar-a-Lago three months ago. He said he was impressed by how Trump handled the situation with North Korea.
“He chooses to be out on the terrace, with the members. It just shows that he’s a man of the people,” he told the Post, referring to a club that has a $200,000 initiation fee.
DeAgazio is a registered Republican in Florida, but he has also been a frequent donor to Democrats as well. He has donated more than $80,000 to candidates from both parties, including John Kerry’s presidential campaign and Scott Brown’s US Senate campaign in 2010, according to federal campaign filings.
On his Facebook page, DeAgazio displayed a certificate saying he was a member of the campaign’s board of directors, a designation that Trump’s campaign website says can be obtained with making a financial donation of at least $25.
DeAgazio also made YouTube videos during Trump’s campaign to support his candidacy.
“He’s really woken up the Republican Party and the American people, and the criticisms of Trump are amazingly missing something,” he said in one video. “They’re lacking in negative stories from those that have worked with him or have had business dealing with him. He’s known to be tough. He’s known to be difficult, but after all the employees he’s had and all the business deals that he’s made over the years, it’s void of criticism.”
Despite the contentious election, Eastman said DeAgazio’s unwavering support for Trump did not change his reputation among those who know him.
“He is one of the most gregarious, generous, popular, and beloved people of both Boston and Palm Beach,” she said. “He’s the king. Everybody loves him.”Tyler Pager can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.