Trump’s south Florida estate raises ethics questions

Trump's south Florida estate raises ethics questions

PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump’s south Florida estate is no longer just the place where he goes to escape.

He has described the sprawling Mar-a-Lago property as the Winter White House and has spent two weekends there so far this month. But it’s also become a magnet for anti-Trump protesters and the subject of an ethics debate over his invitation to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to join him this weekend — with Trump pledging to pay for the accommodations.

Demonstrators chose the estate site as a venue for protesting Trump’s decision approving construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline. The North Dakota project, opposed by a Native American tribe fearful of water contamination from potential oil leaks, had stalled in Democrat Barack Obama’s administration. Trump’s executive order cleared the way for the developer to start building the final stretch of pipeline.

During Trump’s other weekend in Florida, several thousand people marched near the property to protest his temporary ban on travel to the United states by refugees as well as citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries. A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court’s decision that temporarily blocks the ban’s enforcement.

Trump’s election is also putting charitable organizations, such as the American Red Cross, in an awkward position for choosing Mar-a-Lago for events booked months in advance. The Red Cross held its annual fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, as it has done for many years, on Feb. 4, about a week after Trump enacted the travel ban. Trump and his wife, Melania, attended.

“What an honour, what a great honour it is. And let’s go to Florida,” Trump told Abe on Friday at a White House news conference shortly before they boarded Air Force One for the trip.

The two world leaders and their wives headed straight to Mar-a-Lago, where they enjoyed a late dinner at the crowded patio restaurant. Joining them under a white-and-yellow striped canopy were Robert Kraft, the owner of the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots, and several interpreters. Paying members and their guests took in the scene and mingled with Trump and Abe into the night.

On Saturday, Trump and Abe paid visits to two of Trump’s golf courses in nearby Jupiter and West Palm Beach, before a more formal delegation dinner at Mar-a-Lago.

World leaders typically exchange gifts, and Trump and Abe did so when Abe rushed to New York City in November to become the first foreign leader to meet with Trump after the election. Abe gave Trump a pricey, gold-colored Honma golf driver; Trump reciprocated with a golf shirt and other golf accessories.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that Abe’s free-of-charge stay at Mar-a-Lago is Trump’s gift to Abe this time around. But the gesture wasn’t sitting well with government watchdog groups.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said Trump and Abe don’t need to meet at Trump’s commercial property, where the membership fee recently was doubled to $200,000.

“Hosting a foreign leader at the president’s business resort creates impossible sets of conflicts,” Weissman said. “If the president hadn’t offered to pay, the U.S. government would be paying Donald Trump’s business for the purpose of hosting the Japanese leader.” Typically, the U.S. government would pick up the costs associated with such a visit.

Weissman said that Camp David, the U.S. government-owned retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, which presidents use for personal getaways as well as to conduct the people’s business, would do fine.

“Why should you go to a resort in Florida?” Weissman asked. “Fine, you want to go to a resort in Florida? Don’t go to one Trump’s family owns.”

But Trump has shown that he isn’t too concerned about possible conflicts of interest involving him and his family. This past week, Trump used his official government Twitter account to criticize Nordstrom after the retailer said it had dropped a line of clothing and accessories sold by his daughter Ivanka.

Trump offered a possible explanation for inviting Abe to Mar-a-Lago, saying a “great friendship” had developed from their New York meeting.

The president is expected to continue bringing world leaders to the estate, helping to fulfil the vision of the property’s former owner, Marjorie Merriweather Post. The late cereal heiress willed Mar-a-Lago to the U.S. government after her death in 1973, intending for it to become a retreat for U.S. presidents and visiting dignitaries.

Trump bought Mar-a-Lago in the 1980s and retains a financial interest in the club.

Presidents through the years often escaped the majesty and protocol of the White House by choosing less formal settings for bilateral talks.

“It’s difficult, in effect, to get away inside the White House with the press corps in the same building,” said Bruce Buchanan, politics professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “In fact, it’s very desirable for presidents to have multiple venues within which to build and create relationships with other world leaders.”

President George W. Bush took advantage of his dusty ranch in Crawford, Texas, and regularly invited foreign counterparts there for talks.

Obama opted for Sunnylands, an estate in the California desert formerly owned by Walter and Leonore Annenberg. The late philanthropists built Sunnylands and long hoped the property they used as a winter home would become the “Camp David of the West.”

___

Superville reported from Washington.

___

Follow Darlene Superville and Jill Colvin on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap and http://www.twitter.com/colvinj

Darlene Superville And Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Dear Santa: the Langley Advance presents local children’s letters to the jolly old elf

During the holidays, the Langley Advance will present letters to Santa. Here is the first selection.

Car fire destroys vehicle in Langley

Firefighters doused a car fire that sent a lot of smoke into the air in Langley.

VIDEO: Hankering for a piece of Star Wars?

A massive Star Wars memorabilia collection is going on the auction block in Langley.

South Surrey shots-fired accused due back in court Jan. 2

Cameron Barton arrested Sept. 25 in White Rock

Cloverdale’s Thunder Colts hockey team raises thousands for Burn Fund

Barbeque event brings in $3,400, donations accepted until Friday, Dec. 15

VIDEO: Recovering addict shares art and story to motivate others

A Langley City man spends time each day painting in McBurney Plaza.

Family Christmas fun at Aldergrove’s Loft Country farm

The Loft Country children’s horse camp in Aldergrove is celebrating Christmas in a new way this year

Court denies WestJet’s bid to toss out discrimination lawsuit of former worker

Mandalena Lewis is suing WestJet over allegations of gender-based discrimination

VIDEO: 3 months later, rescued sea lion released back into ocean

The young animal was found in Campbell River three months ago

Sagmoen neighbours recall alleged hammer attack

Woman was screaming outside Maple Ridge townhouse in 2013

UPDATED: Train collides with car in Maple Ridge

Mother and child both uninjured, track cleared at 11 a.m.

Accused B.C. drug smuggler to be extradited

Supreme Court of Canada upholds extradition order for accused Shuswap drug smuggler, Colin Martin

One convicted, two cleared in 2014 deaths of men in B.C.’s Cariboo

Andrew Jongbloets convicted of manslaughter in deaths of Matthew Hennigar, 23 and Kalvin Andy, 22

VIDEO: Pedestrian struck by vehicle caught on security camera

Incident points to danger on the roads not only in low light but also in bright sunshine

Most Read