According to a remarkable CNN report, President Trump was eating dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his private Mar-a-Lago club on Saturday evening when he received a call on his mobile phone informing him that North Korea had tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
The ensuing scene illustrated some of the problems involved in Trump treating a $200,000-per-membership private club as his “winter White House.”
Trump and Abe were seated in the middle of the club’s dining room, allowing members of the club to gawk as the two heads of state grappled with matters of war and peace.
“As Mar-a-Lago’s wealthy members looked on from their tables, and with a keyboard player crooning in the background, Trump and Abe’s evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners, who described it in detail to CNN,” Kevin Liptak of CNN wrote.
But White House strategist Steve Bannon and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn were sitting elsewhere in the dimly-lit dining area, so they had to huddle closer to Trump while he tried to deal with an international crisis.
“The patio was lit only with candles and moonlight, so aides used the camera lights on their phones to help the stone-faced Trump and Abe read through the documents,” CNN reports. “Even as a flurry of advisers and translators descended upon the table carrying papers and phones for their bosses to consult, dinner itself proceeded apace. Waiters cleared the wedge salads and brought along the main course as Trump and Abe continued consulting with aides.”
In other words, Trump — who made Hillary Clinton’s email security the centerpiece of his presidential campaign — discussed sensitive national security matters in front of waiters and diners who were later able to describe the scene “in detail” to reporters.
Some onlookers posted photos and accounts of what they saw on social media:
At Abe’s urging, the two heads of state decided to offer a joint statement before the assembled press. The New York Times praised the “uncharacteristic restraint” Trump demonstrated while reading his brief statement, but when he left the briefing room, the president couldn’t restrain himself from dropping in a wedding reception.
According to CNN, Trump grabbed a microphone at the reception and paid tribute to the newlywed couple, saying, “I saw them out on the lawn today… I said to the Prime Minister of Japan, I said, ‘C’mon Shinzo, let’s go over and say hello.’ ”
“They’ve been members of this club for a long time,” Trump added. “They’ve paid me a fortune.”
The moment was caught on video:
Are we ok w this? Trump is a part-time occupant of Oval Office & keeps his part-time weekend gig as a wedding MC pic.twitter.com/U99QRhkSBW
— RiotWomenn (@riotwomennn) February 13, 2017
In addition to the circus of two heads of state trying to deal with an international crisis in the middle of a dining room full of onlookers, the CNN report alludes to how the president is using his continued ownership of Mar-a-Lago to line his pockets.
“Swanning through the club’s living room and main dining area alongside Abe, Trump was — as is now typical — swarmed with paying members, who now view dinner at the club as an opportunity for a few seconds of face time with the new President,” the report said.
To capitalize on the the premium people are willing to pay for access to the president, the Trump Organization recently doubled the Mar-a-Lago initiation fee to $200,000. Trump has spent two of his three full weekends as president there.
Trump paid for Abe’s visit himself, because the government of Japan footing the bill might have violated the Constitution’s prohibition on presidents receiving gifts from foreign states — a prohibition Trump has likely already violated by his continued ownership of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
In an interview with the New York Times that was published yesterday, Eric Trump — who, along with Donald, Jr., is handling the daily management of his father’s business while he’s president — dismissed concerns about the president conducting diplomacy at Mar-a-Lago, and compared visits like Abe’s to foreign heads of state visiting President George W. Bush at his ranch in Texas. But that comparison overlooks the fact that Bush’s ranch wasn’t a private club where international crises were handled in front of diners.