Saturday, February 18, 2017
Pay for play, right out in the open
On any given weekend, you might catch President Trump’s son-in-law and top Mideast dealmaker, Jared Kushner, by the beachside soft-serve ice cream machine, or his reclusive chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, on the dining patio. If you are lucky, the president himself could stop by your table for a quick chat. But you will have to pay $200,000 for the privilege — and the few available spots are going fast.
Porr little boo boo. Yes, it's very unfair to assume the worst of people isn't it? Kind of like this bullshit that Eric Trump spewed during the campaign over and over and over again:
Virtually overnight, Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s members-only Palm Beach, Fla., club, has been transformed into the part-time capital of American government, a so-called winter White House where Mr. Trump has entertained a foreign head of state, health care industry executives and other presidential guests.
But Mr. Trump’s gatherings at Mar-a-Lago — he arrived there on Friday afternoon, his third weekend visit in a row — have also created an arena for potential political influence rarely seen in American history: a kind of Washington steakhouse on steroids, situated in a sunny playground of the rich and powerful, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists.
Membership lists reviewed by The New York Times show that the club’s nearly 500 paying members include dozens of real estate developers, Wall Street financiers, energy executives and others whose businesses could be affected by Mr. Trump’s policies. At least three club members are under consideration for an ambassadorship. Most of the 500 have had memberships predating Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, and there are a limited number of memberships still available.
William I. Koch, who oversees a major mining and fuels company, belongs to Mar-a-Lago, as does the billionaire trader Thomas Peterffy, who spent more than $8 million on political ads in 2012 warning of creeping socialism in America.
Another member is George Norcross, an insurance executive and the South Jersey Democratic Party boss, whose friendship with Mr. Trump dates to the president’s Atlantic City years, when Mr. Norcross held insurance contracts with Mr. Trump’s casinos, and Mr. Trump wrangled with the state’s Democratic leaders over tax treatment of the properties. Yet another member is Janet Weiner, part owner and chief financial officer of the Rockstar energy drink company, which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying federal officials to avoid tighter regulations on its products.
Bruce Toll, a real estate executive who co-founded Toll Brothers, one of the nation’s largest home builders, and who is still active in the industry, owns a home nearby and frequently sees Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago, he said. While they did not discuss any of Mr. Toll’s specific projects, he said, the two would occasionally discuss national issues, such as Mr. Trump’s plans to increase spending on highways and other infrastructure projects.
“Maybe you ought to do this or that,” Mr. Toll said of the kind of advice that Mr. Trump got from club members.
Mr. Trump’s son Eric, in an interview on Friday, rejected suggestions that his family was offering access to his father and profiting from it. First, he said, only 20 to 40 new members are admitted per year, and second, the wealthy business executives who frequent the club, among others, have many ways to communicate with the federal government if they want to.
“It assumes the worst of us and everyone, and that is unfair,” Eric Trump said.
“The question I always ask is, what product were they selling? If we make a buck, we sold a bottle of wine or an apartment, or we sold a hotel room. What product were they selling to make $150 million,” Mr. Trump said on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”
Host Ainsley Earhardt suggested: “Favors? The government?”
“Of course,” responded Mr. Trump.
Donald Trump's son told CNBC on Wednesday the latest revelations about the Clinton Foundation proves "pay to play" and "corruption at the highest level."
"It should not be happening. It makes the whole world question our system. We are leaders of the free world. Why are we doing it?" Eric Trump said in an interview on "Squawk Box."
Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, said the president had no conflicts of interest, a reference to the fact that federal law exempts him from provisions prohibiting federal employees from taking actions that could benefit themselves financially.
“But regardless, he has not and will not be discussing policy with club members,” she said in a written statement.
Mar-a-Lago, she added, is “one of the most successful private clubs in the world,” and it “was intended to be the Southern White House, and the president looks forward to hosting many world leaders at this remarkable property.”
But unlike the real White House, it has no public access, and no official visitor log is available. When members of the White House press corps accompanied Mr. Trump to the club and nearby golf course last weekend, they were housed during part of the trip in a room whose windows had been covered with black plastic.
Mar-a-Lago members and their guests, on the other hand, had a front-row seat to a brewing foreign policy crisis, when Mr. Trump and his aides huddled on the dining patio to devise a response to North Korea’s launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile in the middle of a dinner with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, and his wife.
“No one needs to have a long sit-down with Donald Trump,” said Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, a nonpartisan watchdog group. “If you can whisper in his ear for 40 seconds, that can be decisive on your policy.”
Mr. Koch — the estranged brother of his better-known siblings, Charles G. and David H. — owns a home in Palm Beach and hosted a fund-raiser for Mr. Trump during the campaign. His company, Oxbow Carbon, is among the world’s largest sellers of petroleum coke, an oil byproduct, and would be a significant beneficiary of the Keystone XL pipeline, construction of which is now a Trump administration priority.
Brad Goldstein, a spokesman for William Koch, said that he did not know whether the two men had ever discussed policy matters. “If I did know,” Mr. Goldstein added, “the answer would be that I decline to comment.”
Mr. Trump’s weekend White House appears to be unprecedented in American history, as it is the first one with customers paying a company owned by the president, several historians said.
“Mar-a-Lago represents a commercialization of the presidency that has few if any precedents in American history,” said Jon Meacham, a presidential historian and Andrew Jackson biographer. “Presidents have always spent time with the affluent,” he added. “But a club where people pay you as president to spend time in his company is new. It is kind of amazing.”
Presidents always hang around with rich people. It's an unfortunate reality in our system. But we've never had people literally paying into the president's family's personal coffers large sums of money to buy access. This is just outright bribery.
But according to the White House counsel the president cannot be corrupt so it's all good.
These people might as well be handing Trump bags full of cash. So, let's just dispense with any notions that the presidency is anything more than a branding opportunity for the Trump family. They should just put the Trump name on the White House and call it a day.
digby 2/18/2017 01:30:00 PM