This unusual habit of escaping the actual White House prompted a number of questions. For example: Who was paying for those other people to visit Mar-a-Lago? The property, after all, is owned by a company from which Trump still benefits financially. If the government is paying for people to stay at the resort, part of that money — taxpayer dollars — would wend its way back to the president’s pocket.
Another question: Who else is at the resort? It’s not a public property, so anyone who met with Trump, however briefly, wouldn’t be known unless the White House chose to share that information. Trump had a habit of stopping by events at the property and schmoozing with the guests, something the media would only learn about after the fact. He also had a habit of conducting business in the property’s main dining room, giving any number of resort members and their guests access to the inner workings of government.
On Friday, we got partial answers to both of those questions. Neither, however, was particularly satisfying.
To find out who was at Mar-a-Lago — and potentially meeting with the president and his team — a group of watchdog organizations, including the National Security Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, sued for visitor records. They were originally supposed to receive those records late last week, but Hurricane Irma prompted a delay. So, on Friday morning, CREW and the National Security Archive revealed the logs they’d been given.
Here in its entirety is the Mar-a-Lago visitors list. (We’ve cleaned up the actual document a bit for easier reading.)
There are 22 people logged from one visit. That visit was by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. For some reason, a visit by the president of China didn’t warrant the same revelation.
The director of the National Security Archive, Tom Blanton, was blunt in his reaction to the paucity of information shared. “The government misled the plaintiffs and the court,” he said in a statement. “I can only conclude that the Trump White House intervened and overrode career lawyers.”
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that on at least one occasion the government had paid costs associated with a stay at Mar-a-Lago. Reporters Drew Harwell and Amy Brittain obtained a receipt for a two-night stay at the hotel in March during one of Trump’s visits to the property. Apparently a receipt for a member of the National Security Council, the bill shows that the stay cost $546 a night — the nondiscounted price for a visit to the property.
The percentage of that cost that makes its way back to the Trump Organization and, from there, to the trust in which Trump’s interest is held isn’t clear.
It also isn’t clear what other similar bills have been paid. That receipt was obtained by the transparency group Property of the People. We know that other government officials have visited the resort, too. The Palm Beach Daily News tracked some of those visits.
We also know that there are other costs paid by the government when Trump visits Mar-a-Lago. In August, USA Today reported that the Secret Service had spent some $60,000 on golf cart rentals for Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago and his club in Bedminster, N.J. Protecting the property had run up a tab of $6.6 million by July for the Coast Guard patrolling the shoreline and overhead alone.
We also know that Trump’s presidency has been lucrative for the property in some ways. Mar-a-Lago jacked up its initiation fee to $200,000 after Trump won the election. Groups have held events at the resort as a function of its owner, including the Palm Beach County Republican Party, which paid $150,000 for an event in the club’s ballroom. (The possibility of a Trump drop-in is a tacit, if not explicit, selling point.) In his most recent financial disclosure, Trump revealed a big jump in income from the resort.
The association with the president works both ways, of course. After the backlash over Trump’s comments on the violence in Charlottesville last month, a number of organizations canceled upcoming events there.
What we still don’t have a clear picture of is who’s gaining access to the president and his team while they’re at the resort and how much the government is paying for that to happen. The revelations on Friday serve more to highlight the murkiness of what is known than to shed much light.