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Jonathan Swan talking with Steve Bannon. Photo: HBO

"Axios on HBO" got the first televised look inside Steve Bannon's Italian monastery — a breathtaking monument in a grand, cinematic setting outside of Rome — but in so doing we found that many of Bannon's other claims about his populist "movement" to roil Europe were overblown or false.

Why it matters: Over the past year, Bannon has received an extraordinary amount of international and U.S. media coverage for his European exploits. Bannon joined a group called "The Movement" — which the New York Times reported last year had enlisted Italy's most powerful politician Matteo Salvini.

  • Bannon also told the Times he would offer European populist parties the "fundamental building blocks for winning" in May's parliamentary elections, including, the Times reported, "expertise in polling, data analytics, messaging and get-out-the-vote efforts, along with the development of media surrogates and campaign war rooms with rapid response."
  • In his most dramatic move, Bannon leased a medieval monastery about two hours from Rome and announced he would use it to train up fearsome hordes of right-wing politicians who will eradicate globalism from Europe.

Between the lines: Our reporting showed that only one of these claims turned out to be true — the existence of the monastery. (Though the Italian government now says it will evict Bannon from the monastery.)

  • Bannon's relationship with Salvini is not what he sold it to be. "Axios on HBO" asked Salvini for an interview and he declined, so we drove six hours out of Rome to see if we could grab him at one of his rallies.
  • After the rally, I stood in the rope line with people who were waiting to take a photo with Salvini. I asked Salvini, on camera, whether he'd spent much time with Bannon and whether Bannon had been helpful. Salvini replied that he'd only spoken to Bannon twice in his life and that while Bannon had "interesting ideas" he had not used him as an adviser.
  • When I asked Bannon about this, he said he'd spoken to Salvini "maybe three or four times." He also admitted that because of European election laws he hadn't done anything like what he promised he would do for these European parties. (The Guardian first reported the legal problems with Bannon's European plans.)

Here are a couple of clips from the Bannon segment, but please watch the whole thing on HBO:

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.