The State Department on Monday removed from its website an article about the history and lavish furnishings of President Trump’s privately owned Florida resort club Mar-a-Lago, following questions about whether the federal government improperly promoted Trump’s moneymaking enterprises.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pointed to the travelogue-style blog piece Monday, asking in a Twitter message why the State Department would spend “taxpayer $$ promoting the president’s private country club.”
The State Department issued a statement Monday apologizing for “any misperception.”
“The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders,” the statement said.
It was not clear whether the item had been vetted for legal or ethical concerns.
The short item had been posted on a travel promotional website called “Share America” on April 4, ahead of Trump’s meeting at Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping. A version of the item was recently reposted on the website maintained by the U.S. Embassy in London, where it caught the attention of watchdog groups.
The item adopted Trump’s term “winter White House” for the members-only club. It did not expressly encourage foreigners to visit Mar-a-Lago, although other articles on the same website actively promote U.S. tourism. The item did note that the estate “is located at the heart of Florida’s Palm Beach community.”
“By visiting this ‘winter White House,’ Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer,” the item read. “The ornate Jazz Age house was designed with Old-World Spanish, Venetian and Portuguese influences” and filled with original owner Marjorie Merriweather Post’s collection of antiques, the article noted.
The item included photographs of the house and sumptuous interiors, and copies of Trump tweets mentioning Mar-a-Lago.
The article gave a brief summary of the 1927 mansion’s history, including Post’s desire that it be used by U.S. presidents as a retreat and the subsequent decision by the U.S. government that the property was too expensive to maintain. Trump bought it in 1985.
“After refurbishing the house and adding an events space, Trump opened the estate to dues-paying members of the public in 1995 as the Mar-a-Lago Club,” the State Department item read. “Post’s dream of a winter White House came true with Trump’s election in 2016. Trump regularly works out of the house he maintains at Mar-a-Lago and uses the club to host foreign dignitaries.”
One watchdog group, American Oversight, called for an investigation by the State Department inspector general and said it would request public records documenting how the blog post was created.
The State Department describes the “Share America” site as its “platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”
The site is produced by the department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, which produces material distributed by U.S. embassies.