President Trump departed Friday for his second consecutive weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort, which administration officials have labored to dub the “Winter White House.” He will be hosting the prime minister of Japan for the weekend as a “personal gift” while the two leaders discuss the US-Japanese relationship amidst rounds of golf.
White House staff has told reporters to prepare for a presidential trip to Florida every weekend this month—a getaway, perhaps, from the cold humdrum of White House life. But Trump’s retreats also appear to be an escape from the routine transparency and ethics laws of his normal residence. Mar-a-Lago, though now treated as a satellite White House, isn’t being subjected to the same rules as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
People can pay $200,000, a fee that was doubled after Trump was elected, to attend the club and rub elbows with the most powerful man on earth. Shouldn’t we know who is paying that fee, and if they meet with the president?
These are the questions Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Tom Udall asked the White House in a letter last week. “Now that you are President, you have an obligation to dispel any suspicions that access to you can be purchased by a private club membership fee,” they wrote.
The senators want the White House to make the Mar-a-Lago membership list public, and in particular, Whitehouse and Udall want to know members and visitors to the resort during the times Trump is present. Visitors to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are recorded in a visitor log that is public information, and they feel the “Winter White House” should adhere to the same practices.
Whitehouse and Udall also want to know what steps Trump has taken to ensure his security at the oceanfront resort, and what internal ethics procedures are in place to determine if any foreign governments or special interests are using Mar-a-Lago membership or visitation as an attempt to influence him.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment from The Nation about the week-old letter. Whitehouse’s office said it did not receive a reply. (“Crickets,” said a spokesman.)
This set-up is straightforwardly problematic: With $200,000 in cash, plus $14,000 per year in annual dues, you could find yourself having a conversation with the president. While Trump does maintain a residence separate from the guests at the resort, he frequently intermingles with guests, even now.
Last weekend, the White House acknowledged that the president attended “a few social engagements” at Mar-a-Lago, according to The Washington Post, presumably with other members. The press is largely kept away from the resort, so it’s difficult to know whom Trump interacted with or who else attended these events.