One of the problems with the president of the United States owning a for-profit club where he regularly mingles with customers is it gives spies easy access to the leader of the free world. Another is that, according to an investigation by ProPublica, taxpayers end up footing the bill for the administration’s bar tabs, and the money winds up in Donald Trump’s pocket:
In April 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, estate and club, for a two-day summit. While Xi and his delegation stayed at a nearby hotel, Trump and his advisers stayed at the peach-colored, waterfront resort. That evening, Trump and a dozen of his closest advisers hosted Xi and the Chinese delegation in an ornate dining room where they ate Dover sole and New York strip steak. Those sorts of lavish, formal gatherings are expected for a major bilateral summit.
But then there are less formal events. At some point later that evening, a group repaired to Mar-a-Lago’s Library Bar, a wood-paneled study with a portrait of Trump in tennis whites (titled “The Visionary”) hanging nearby. The group asked the bartender to leave the room so it “could speak confidentially,” according to an e-mail written by Mar-a-Lago’s catering director, Brooke Watson . . . The bartender wasn’t allowed to return. And members of the group began pouring themselves drinks. No one paid. Six days later, on April 13, Mar-a-Lago created a bill for those drinks, tallying $838 worth of alcohol plus a 20% service charge. It covered 54 drinks (making for an average price of $18.62 each) of premium liquor: Chopin vodka, Patron and Don Julio Blanco tequilas and Woodford Reserve bourbon.
According to reporter Derek Kravitz, the bill was sent to the State Department, which objected to covering the tab. It was then forwarded to the White House which, naturally, didn’t have a problem paying and thereby further enriching the president. (The White House declined ProPublica’s request for comment.) In addition to the booze bill, e-mails show that the Trump Organization refused to agree to a contract in which the State Department would pay a $200,000 flat fee for all room costs for federal employees who stayed at Mar-a-Lago during the president’s first term. Instead, the president’s private, for-profit club apparently bills the government “the maximum permitted by federal rules: 300% of the government’s per diem rate, which works out to $546 per night.” And that’s just the revenue going directly to Donald Trump that we know about:
Many of the expenses incurred by White House staff are arranged and paid for by the White House’s Office of Administration. These expenses are not required to be made public. The same goes for Secret Service spending to protect the president on such visits. (The Government Accountability Office released a report last month evaluating spending at Mar-a-Lago in February and March 2017 and found that a total of $60,000 was spent at the hotel during four trips; the figure ran to $13.6 million when costs for plane travel, secret service, security and other logistics were included.)
Between 2015 and June of 2018, at least $16.1 million has poured into Trump Organization-managed and branded hotels, golf courses and restaurants from his campaign, Republican organizations and government agencies. Because Trump’s business empire is overseen by a trust of which he is the sole beneficiary, he profits from these hotel stays, banquet hall rentals and meals.