‘Pay-for-access to Trump club’: Mar-a-Lago faces renewed ethics concerns
With the winding down of the Winter White House comes another season of controversy and scandal that swirl around the presidents resort
At Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trumps waterfront winter retreat, an end-of-term air hangs over the expansive verandas and perfectly manicured lawns. In barely a months time, following the traditional season-closing Easter Sunday brunch gala, the private members club will be scrubbed and shuttered for the summer, its wealthy clientele dispersing to residences in the Hamptons or boarding their mega-yachts to cruise the Mediterranean.
With the winding down of the annual Palm Beach social circuit comes the end of another season of controversy, scandal and ethics concerns that swirl around the exclusive resort, which drips with gold-leafed opulence and where a $200,000 initiation fee appears to cover the privilege of bending the presidents ear.
This years cast of notable characters includes the Chinese former owner of a massage parlour snared in a high-profile prostitution sting, a Russian investor wanted in his home country for tax fraud and a cosmetic dentist who influenced Trumps thinking on veterans care by writing policy advice on a cocktail napkin.
Add to the mix last summers confirmation as ambassador to the Dominican Republic of Trumps longtime friend and former insurance agent Robin Bernstein, a Mar-a-Lago founding member, and renewed concerns by ethics experts over the ease of access to and influence over Trump when he visits his resort are easy to understand.
The Mar-a-Lago club has turned into a pay-for-access to the president club, with a president with almost no knowledge of governmental policy, said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a Washington-based pro-transparency group that has criticised Trump for continuing to profit from his business operations while in office.
If you can whisper in his ear and tell him anything, he may well think its sensible and he may well act upon it.
Theres no reason to believe people hes picking out of the field at Mar-a-Lago are qualified to serve as ambassadors for the US or in any governmental position but theyre paying, they have access, theyre buddying up and they get to use serious positions as casual rewards.
Of equal concern, Weissman said, is that the most powerful man in the world could be so easily manipulated by those whose credentials as policy advisers seems based solely on wealth.
Long ago presidents were very accessible and the White House was open, but even then the access wasnt based on your ability to pay a $200,000 cover fee, he said. Theres absolutely no precedent for this kind of paid-for access, and theres no precedent for a president who is so responsive to random bits of information because he has no views of his own and no background knowledge of his own.