Trump's ‘Winter White House’ Mar-a-Lago Showcased on State Department SiteBy
State Department removes page after concerns about conflicts
Trump Organization doubled Mar-a-Lago fees in January
The U.S. State Department pulled down a page on an official website that had showcased President Donald Trump’s private club, Mar-a-Lago, after it raised questions about a potential conflict of interest.
The posting, dated April 4, called the club the “Winter White House.” It detailed the history of the property “located at the heart of Florida’s Palm Beach community,” including Trump’s purchase of it in 1985. The posting was published on ShareAmerica.gov, a State Department website that promotes the U.S. abroad and also appeared in an abbreviated form on the official site of the U.S. embassy to the U.K.
Lawmakers and the government’s top ethics official have criticized Trump for not divesting from his businesses, arguing that his holdings pose conflicts of interest. The Trump Organization doubled the price of memberships at Mar-a-Lago to $200,000 a year in January.
In response to the State Department’s posting, Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, asked in a tweet Monday, “Why are taxpayer $$ promoting the President’s private country club?”
By Monday evening, the posting on Mar-a-Lago had been removed and replaced with a statement: “The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the President has been hosting world leaders. We regret any misperception and have removed the post.”
The ShareAmerica.gov posting had described the ornate décor of the 114-room mansion, which was built in 1927 by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. The State Department said in the posting that when Trump acquired the property, he “bought the decorations and furnishings that Post had collected over the years, preserving Mar-a-Lago’s style and taste."
"Why would these officials choose to put out communications praising Mar-a-Lago when it’s so clearly a conflict?" asked John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, which promotes government transparency. He said the posting was a "clearly inappropriate" use of government resources. "It goes into the history of Mar-a-Lago, but not the historic presidential conflict of interest."
Trump has twice hosted world leaders at the club so far: President Xi Jinping of China and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. In February, Senator Elizabeth Warren called on the Government Accountability Office to review whether national security protocols were being followed at the property after Trump and Abe dealt with a North Korean missile launch in the club’s dining room.
In March, congressional Democrats introduced a bill to force disclosure of the names of visitors meeting with Trump and other administration officials at the club and at Trump Tower in New York.
The club was a frequent stop for Trump even during his campaign for the White House. He used it to host fundraisers, press conferences and victory rallies for his primary wins. Since his inauguration, he’s visited Mar-a-Lago seven times. According to the State Department posting, by using the club for official business, “Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s owner and designer.”
— With assistance by Nick Wadhams