As President Donald Trump headed to his private resort in Florida this weekend—his second trip in two weeks, and probably not his last this month—ethics experts and multiple senators voiced serious concerns about the president’s conducting business in a bustling, elite, members-only club.
Over the past 48 hours, Trump validated those concerns with gold-plated gusto. He hashed out a response to a North Korean missile launch on a busy patio, as people snapped photos and waiters cleared his salad. He hobnobbed with members and visitors at the club, making it clear that paying the $200,000 member fee at Mar-a-Lago was an easy way to parlay with the most powerful man on earth. And passersby were apparently able to get close to classified documents and the presidential limo whenever they pleased.
Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Tom Udall called earlier this month for more transparency during the president’s visits to Mar-a-Lago, and in particular more information about security arrangements. They released a joint statement Monday that said: “Now we have unknown and unvetted Mar-a-Lago members looking over the President’s shoulder as he conducts our foreign policy. This is America’s foreign policy, not this week’s episode of Saturday Night Live. We urge our Republican colleagues to start taking this Administration’s rash and unprofessional conduct seriously before there are consequences we all regret.”
CNN reported Sunday night that, one hour before Trump was set to dine with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, North Korea launched a ballistic missile 300 miles into the Sea of Japan. Trump and Abe nevertheless sat down in the center of the Mar-a-Lago patio to review the situation and plot their response over dinner as scores of club members watched:
As Mar-a-Lago’s wealthy members looked on from their tables, and with a keyboard player crooning in the background, Trump and Abe’s evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners, who described it in detail to CNN….
Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and chief strategist Steve Bannon left their seats to huddle closer to Trump as documents were produced and phone calls were placed to officials in Washington and Tokyo. The patio was lit only with candles and moonlight, so aides used the camera lights on their phones to help the stone-faced Trump and Abe read through the documents.
Pictures of the bizarre scene quickly began popping up on social media. Instagram user ebain529 posted this on Saturday night, evidently showing National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and senior counselor to the president Stephen Bannon hovering over Trump at a dinner table.