In a piece centered on President Trump’s special relationship with Mar-a-Lago, his opulent Florida club and preferred golfing destination, the Washington Post reports that President Trump not only solicits advice from the moneyed members of the place but also takes their opinions seriously.
“At Mar-a-Lago, anyone who can get within eyesight changes the game,” said a former White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss a sensitive subject, and referring to club members and guests who sometimes try the influence the president on policy, share an opinion on his administration or simply say hello. “Everyone who is angling for something knows to be there.
Trump often asks guests about foreign affairs or legislative accomplishments and solicits their opinions on certain aides or how the White House is doing. Earlier this year, Trump quizzed club members about the Paris climate accord and North Korea, one person familiar with his questions said. He has questioned Mar-a-Lago guests, alternatively, on the performance of former chief of staff Reince Priebus and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, his news coverage, their opinions of Congress and his rally performances, according to several advisers.
As in so many other arenas, President Trump is doing something without clear precedent among the 44 men who came before him. All presidents have surely solicited the advice of private citizens from time to time. And sure, the Washington lobbying class is full of rich and connected insiders who wield undue influence on lawmakers. But that’s still a far cry from billionaires simply buying access to the president via a hefty club-admission fee, then urging him to bomb North Korea as they wait for a well-done hamburger. The whole arrangement is a clear breach of longstanding norms that an exhausted public and obedient Republican Party has mostly decided to forget about.
The Mar-a-Lago details come on the heels of a Daily Beast report, which states that Trump is still very much involved in the running of his Washington, D.C., hotel, even though he made a big show of transferring all control of his businesses through a (mostly meaningless) blind trust when he took office.
Though business has dropped off at many Trump properties during the first year of his presidency (an approval rating in the mid-to-high 30s will do that), the D.C. hotel is going gangbusters, having morphed into a gathering place for Trump administration power brokers and and foreign diplomats hoping to curry favor with the president. (Congress has decided to give Trump a free pass on that.)
In an email the Daily Beast obtained from the director of revenue management:
“DJT is supposed to be out of the business and passed on to his sons, but he’s definitely still involved … so it’s interesting and unique in that way. I had a brief meeting with him a few weeks ago, and he was asking about banquet revenues and demographics. And, he asked if his presidency hurt the businesses. So, he seems self aware about things, at least more than he lets on.”
“This appears to confirm the worst fears about the Trump administration,” a spokesperson for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told the Daily Beast. “If this is true, it means the president, his family and his spokespeople lied repeatedly about his relationship with his business.”
The Trump administration, and the president himself, has always paid lip service to the idea that private money-making schemes and public service need be separated. From Kellyanne Conway hawking Ivanka Trump’s products at a press conference to Trump bizarrely touting one of his golf courses during a speech to South Korea’s legislature, the entire administration continues to run roughshod over the barriers that were meant to divide the two spheres. And congressional Republicans, who scream bloody murder at the mere mention of the Clinton Foundation, have responded with a collective shrug.
Poor, poor Jimmy Carter.