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Trump Returns to 'Winter White House'

Mar-a-Lago members have near-unimpeded access to president
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 21, 2018 7:18 AM CST
President Trump gives 'Peas' a pardon during a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018.   (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
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(Newser) – President Trump is back in his comfort zone at the "winter White House": Mar-a-Lago, where women in furs and men in diamond jewelry and monogrammed slippers mingle with Sylvester Stallone and Fabio at New Year's Eve celebrations and Don King rubs elbows with Cabinet members, could-be ambassadors, and the "MyPillow" guy at dinner. As he departed Washington for Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday for Thanksgiving, Trump said he'd be doing "a lot of work" in Florida, but the club also serves as his refuge from Washington, the AP reports. All presidents have had favorite retreats, but none has drawn the fascination—or raised the ethical issues—of Mar-a-Lago, where Trump spends his time mixing work, business, and pleasure in the company of dues-paying members.

  • Former White House ethics lawyer Norman Eisen describes the club as "a place where, for sky-high admissions fees, business executives who have strong interests before the government can literally engage in purchasing access to the president. Those fees also seem to be down payments on ambassadorships."

  • Trump recently picked Lana Marks, a Palm Beach handbag designer and Mar-a-Lago member, to serve as US ambassador to South Africa. She's the fourth member to be nominated for such a post, according to the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, where Eisen serves as board chairman.
  • Trump is typically lightly staffed during his visits south. But those who do make the trip are on alert, wary of club members and invited guests who buttonhole the president in places where they have near-unimpeded access. Members often raise pet projects, make policy suggestions, and share oddball ideas—everything from trying to sell the president on the benefits of nuclear-powered cars to pitching their own formulas for Mideast peace. Trump sometimes directs his staff to follow up on their suggestions.
  • Former administration officials described the lengths to which aides have gone to try to run interference: scanning daily guest lists, reserving the dinner table next to Trump's to keep as close an eye on him as possible, and keeping tabs on the people who approach him.
  • Before departing Tuesday, Trump pardoned two turkeys named "Peas" and Carrots." "I have warned them that House Democrats are likely to issue them both subpoenas," he joked. "Unfortunately, I can't guarantee that your pardons won't be enjoined by the Ninth Circuit." That was a reference to the San Francisco-based federal appeals court that has overturned some of Trump's actions.
(After signing a tax bill last year, Trump told friends at Mar-a-Lago they "just got a lot richer.")

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