The setting? A virtual meeting of the Palm Beach, Fla., town council.
While many Americans — including Trump himself — were following the impeachment proceedings in the U.S. Senate, elected officials in the affluent island community were preoccupied by a different argument about the former president. After discussing an inlet sand transfer and the purchase of a municipal generator, they turned their attention to whether Trump should be allowed to continue living at Mar-a-Lago, the private club where he has been in self-imposed exile since leaving the White House.
As The Washington Post’s Manuel Roig-Franzia previously reported, Trump struck a deal with the town of Palm Beach in 1993 when he sought to turn what had been a sprawling single-family home into a private club. Members would be permitted to stay at Mar-a-Lago for only seven days at a time, preventing anyone from making it a permanent residence. Trump himself didn’t intend to live there, his attorney assured the town council, “except that he will be a member of the Club and would be entitled to use its guest rooms.”
Neighbors contend that by making Mar-a-Lago his primary residence — and spending the past three weeks there while reportedly “licking his wounds” — Trump is flouting the terms of that 1993 agreement. But their main concern is that the presence of the former president will detract from what an attorney on Tuesday described as the “genteel” atmosphere of Palm Beach.
“We feel that this issue threatens to make Mar-a-Lago into a permanent beacon for his more rabid, lawless supporters,” added Philip Johnston, who represents a group called Preserve Palm Beach, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Palm Beach’s millionaires and billionaires treasure their privacy, and Trump’s frequent visits during his presidency — which meant that entire streets were blocked off and traffic came to a standstill — were an ongoing source of frustration. As Trump reached the end of his term, neighbors urged the town to avoid an “embarrassing situation” by preemptively informing the president that he would not be allowed to live at Mar-a-Lago full time after exiting the White House.
But while Trump’s defense team had a difficult first day in the Senate, the fight over his Palm Beach residence appears to be tilting in his favor.
His Florida attorney, John B. Marion, argued on Tuesday that Trump is technically an employee of Mar-a-Lago, making him exempt from the rule that limits how long members can stay on the premises. And while Trump’s lawyers may have said in 1993 that he didn’t intend to live at the club, that promise wasn’t part of his final agreement with the town.
“It seems there is nothing … that would prohibit him from living in the owner’s suite,” Palm Beach Town Council President Margaret A. Zeidman said Tuesday, according to the Sun Sentinel.
The town’s attorney, John “Skip” Randolph, agreed, writing in a memo to councilors that the agreement “did not incorporate a direct prohibition on former President Trump residing at the Club.” The only question up for debate was whether Trump was a “bona fide” employee of Mar-a-Lago.
Based on Palm Beach’s definition of “employee,” which includes corporate officers and partners, “I have been advised that President Trump is indeed an employee,” Randolph said Tuesday, according to the Palm Beach Daily News.
Whether that means Trump has one less legal battle to worry about is unclear. The five-member council took no action after hearing arguments on Tuesday, and didn’t indicate whether it would grant Trump’s opponents the opportunity to present a more detailed case against him in April.