Ever since President Donald Trump has assumed office, he has been spending his weekends at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach — despite promises during the campaign that he would rarely leave the White House. Now it's come out that the U.S. State Department officially promoted his personal real estate.
Share America, a State Department program for U.S. embassies, posted an article with photos and a flowery description of the resort that was available to all embassies through the website. The page on the embassy site also described it as “the winter White House.”
The piece was largely overlooked until it was posted on websites and social media accounts of various American embassies abroad. The advertisement instantly sparked a furor online forcing the department to remove the original post. A small message on the website now reads, “The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders. We regret any misperception and have removed the post.”
The post, which is now unavailable, goes through the history of the property and how Trump was set to host Chinese President Xi Jinping at the property in April. It further elaborates how the resort was built by Marjorie Merriweather Post in 1927 and acquired by Trump in 1985.
Ever since Trump became president, he has visited the beach resort seven times and spent a total of 25 days there. He has also hosted a number of foreign dignitaries there, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese president Xi Jinping. Recently, the resort raised its initiation fee from $100,000 to $200,000.
Trump entered the presidency with major conflict of interest problems as ethics experts feared it will be very difficult for him to keep himself away from his business empire. Since then, ethics watchdogs and Democrats have been closely eyeing on his ability to personally benefit through his presidency. The recent promotion of his personal property by a government department raises fresh questions.
Several Democrats have also raised questions about the blog post.
Shripal Shah, vice president of American Bridge, a Democratic firm said "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. 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."
According to Norman Eisen, former President Barack Obama's special counsel for ethics and Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, the blog post was a violation of federal law as it 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. It's illegality run rampant,” said Eisen.
Sen Ron Wyden D-OR: Why is the State Department using tax dollars to do PR for Mar-a-Lago https://t.co/iW8p1dE6WM— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) April 24, 2017
Mar-a-Lago, which doubled its fees after Trump won, now gets its own State Department website. https://t.co/pkqgDfvjMa— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) April 24, 2017