Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort — which he refers to as “the Winter White House” — will bring in millions of dollars in membership fees each year while allowing members to have the ear of the president.
According to a New York Times piece published on Saturday, Trump’s son Eric told the newspaper that Mar-a-Lago admits about 20 to 40 new members each year. Considering that Mar-a-Lago raised its initiation fees to $200,000 after Trump’s presidential inauguration, that’s up to $8 million dollars coming in from new members per year. And that doesn’t include taxes or the $14,000 charge for each member’s annual dues.
Trump and his closest advisers have repeatedly denied there’s anything improper about Trump’s members-only club in Palm Beach. They say it doesn’t amount to paying for access to President Trump because the club is social, not political. And they argue the powerful people who pay for membership have other avenues of communicating with the president.
“He has not and will not be discussing policy with club members,” White House spokesperson Holly Hicks said in a statement provided to the New York Times.
But reporting from the Times and from Politico suggests otherwise.
Real estate executive Bruce Toll told the New York Times that he does occasionally discuss national policy issues — specifically, Trump’s plans to increase spending on infrastructure projects — when he sees Trump at Mar-a-Lago. According to Toll, Trump sometimes receives advice from other club members about what he should do policy-wise.
Developer Richard LeFrak, a close friend of Trump’s, recounted a discussion at Mar-a-Lago last weekend during which Trump asked him for help with the proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico. Trump was unhappy with the projected cost of the wall, wanted to come up with a way to build it more cheaply, and suggested that the head of the Department of Homeland Security would give LeFrak a call to talk about it.
And according to an audio tape obtained by Politico from one of Trump’s New Jersey clubs that was also published on Saturday, Trump has asked his club members for their guidance selecting his cabinet appointees.
“We were just talking about who we [are] going to pick for the FCC, who [are] we going to pick for this, who we gonna accept — boy, can you give me some recommendations?” Trump said to a member, according to the tape.
The tape reveals that Trump also invited his guests to join interviews with people under consideration for jobs in his administration.
“We’re doing a lot of interviews tomorrow — generals, dictators, we have everything,” Trump said. “You may wanna come around. It’ll be fun. We’re really working tomorrow. We have meetings every 15, 20 minutes with different people that will form our government.”
This weekend, Trump is planning to use Mar-a-Lago to meet with potential candidates he’s considering to fill the National Security Adviser position recently vacated by Michael Flynn.
Of course, it’s not unusual for world leaders to surround themselves with rich and powerful people. But it is unique to be able to pay $200,000 for entry into a private club where multiple sources close to the president have confirmed he’s at his most relaxed and ready to mingle.
Applications to Mar-a-Lago have surged since Trump won the presidency.
Democratic lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have demanded more information about who holds a membership at Mar-a-Lago and how closely they have been vetted. The urgency increased after last weekend, when Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discussed a potential North Korea crisis in full view of the diners and waiters at his club.
Trump has spent the past three weekends at Mar-a-Lago even though he promised during the campaign that he would “rarely leave the White House.” His weekend trips to Mar-a-Lago each cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $3 million in Secret Service fees.