WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump personally owns Mar-a-Lago, his private club on Florida’s eastern coast. But that didn’t stop the State Department, in a blog post on the United States Embassy in London’s website, from touting the property.
In a markedly promotional blog post from April 5 that could eventually benefit the president’s bottom line, should it spur membership or foreign visits, the embassy writes that the property has “become well known as the president frequently travels there to work or host foreign leaders.”
Ethics watchdogs and Democratic groups have been closely eyeing Trump’s ability to benefit his bottom line through the presidency and this blog post has some questioning whether the government is now helping publicize the property.
The Mar-a-Lago Club has already seemingly benefited from Trump’s presidency. The club raised its initiation fee from $100,000 to $200,000 after Trump was elected and members and former members around Mar-a-Lago have said there is now an added cachet with frequently visiting the president’s club.
“Aggressively begging foreign countries to funnel money straight into Trump’s pocket is a clear violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, but that’s precisely what the State Department is doing by openly promoting one of the Trumps’ private businesses,” Shripal Shah, vice president of American Bridge, a Democratic firm, said Monday. “It’s a gross abuse of taxpayer resources and flagrant violation of the law from an administration that thinks rules don’t apply to them.”
Acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner wasn’t aware of the post when it was raised by reporters on Monday.
Both Norm Eisen, former President Barack Obama’s ethics czar, and Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, said the blog post was a violation of federal law that restricts aspects of the government promoting a private business that benefits their superior, the president.
“This is outrageous, more exploitation of public office for Trump’s personal gain,” Eisen said. “Using the government’s megaphone to promote Mar-a-Lago” is like when Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump aide, urged people during a television interview to buy Ivanka Trump’s clothing line.
The Office of Government Ethics found that to be a violation, but Conway was not punished, despite being “counseled” on the matter.
“It’s illegality run rampant,” Eisen said.
The blog entry, which was posted earlier this month, stems from an earlier post by Share America, a State Department site that aims to share “compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics” with foreign governments and US embassies.
The Share America story, which labels Mar-a-Lago the “winter White House,” a term Trump has taken to using, goes through the history of the property and how Trump was set to host Chinese President Xi Jinping at the property in April.
The entry details how it was built by Marjorie Merriweather Post in 1927, when the cereal heiress hoped the property would be used by presidents and dignitaries. Trump bought the property in 1985. The post also noted that “Trump opened the estate to dues-paying members of the public in 1995 as the Mar-a-Lago Club.”
Trump has visited Mar-a-Lago seven times as president, spending a total of 25 days at the club.
He has entertained foreign dignitaries — including Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — but he has also spent considerable time on the golf course, including at his nearby Trump International Golf Club.
Several Democratic lawmakers, many of whom have raised questions in the past about Trump’s use of Mar-a-Lago, questioned the blog post.
Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, tweeted, “Yes, I am curious @StateDept. Why are taxpayer $$ promoting the President’s private country club?”
And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted, “Why is @realDonaldTrump’s State Dept promoting the President’s private club? #Trump100Days”