Aides to the president-elect quickly insisted that she would not: Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, subsequently retweeted a CNN report in which he had said that Le Pen would meet neither with Trump nor any members of his transition team.
“Trump tower is open to the public,” Spicer said.
And yet Le Pen’s visit fits into a recurring pattern of the Trump transition period: a foreign populist leader somehow appearing at Trump’s headquarters before the president-elect has met with the actual leaders of the countries concerned.
Just three days after the U.S. election, Trump received Nigel Farage, the interim head of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the principal advocate of the “Brexit” campaign for Britain to leave the European Union.
Furthermore, Le Pen has been among the most vocal foreign supporters of Trump since his election, heralding his victory as a democratic choice that could “bury the old order” and serve as a steppingstone to “building tomorrow’s world.”
As a candidate in France’s upcoming presidential election in late April and early May, Le Pen has couched her campaign as a potential next chapter in the populist wave in the Western world that fueled the Brexit vote and Trump’s victory.
Aside from her appearance Thursday morning in Trump Tower’s basement cafeteria, links between Le Pen’s campaign and the Trump team had already been established. In November, Stephen Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News and now Trump’s chief strategist, reached out to the Le Pen family in hopes of “working together.”
Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the niece of Marine Le Pen, wrote on Twitter in November that she enthusiastically accepted Bannon’s invitation.
On the eve of the French presidential election, ties between the formerly fringe National Front party and the president-elect of the United States immediately caused significant anxiety.
Thursday’s reports of Le Pen's appearance at Trump Tower fanned fears that her platform — marked by hostility to immigrants, the desire to cozy up to Vladimir Putin’s Russia and a dogged insistence on taking France out of the European Union — could soon be legitimized.
Although an actual meeting between Trump and Le Pen could not be confirmed, political analysts in Paris said they worry more about the likely alliance to come, especially after Trump’s inauguration next week.
For Dominique Moïsi, co-founder of the French Center for International Relations (IFRI), this "would be the end of the transatlantic alliance, and the end of the European Union as a club of values." He added, "It would be the end of a period, the end of a world.”
For the moment, Le Pen is rising in opinion polls in advance of the French election. She appears likely to reach the second and final round of the vote.