US President Donald Trump and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe play golf in at Trump's private club, where initiation fees cost $200,000. February 11, 2017. Trump has been criticised for not divesting from his privately-held businesses, and using them in his role as president to generate personal income. Photograph: (AFP)
Trump is getting free advertising for his private golf club, which charges more than $200,000 to be a member, by hosting Japan's PM there
Donald Trump is raising more concerns about conflict of interest after he hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his private club in Florida, Mar a-Lago.
A working dinner tonight with Prime Minister Abe of Japan, and his representatives, at the Winter White House (Mar-a-Lago). Very good talks!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2017
While Trump said that he would pay the costs associated with Abe's stay, the president is using his position to promote his private club, which still generates for him personal income. NBC reported that the resort doubled its initiation fee from $100,000 to $200,000 on January 25, days into his presidency.
Mentions of "Mar a-Lago" are included in official presidential communication, and no doubt will be played all over news stations across the world. His presidential communications are now essentially free advertising for his business. The regular activities of a president, like meeting other world leaders, are now generating personal income for Trump.
Anybody who pays the $200,000 fee can potentially have access to the president at an event. And even if there's no exchange with him, paying $200,000 that ultimately goes to a Trump company can only make a lobbyist more popular.
Trump using the White House to promote his business is not new. That is literally what he did at the beginning of the month.
V subtle view out the window here in this new Trump Hotels marketing email... pic.twitter.com/ZtKmXDvPRq— Gabriel Debenedetti (@gdebenedetti) February 1, 2017
The Mar-a-Lago accusation comes after Trump and other members of his administration used their public profile to promote Ivanka Trump's clothing line after Nordstrom decided to stop selling it.
Trump himself used his Twitter feed to punish a public company for making a business decision that was well within their rights.
My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person -- always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 8, 2017
Top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway was even more brazen, explicitly encouraging the public to buy Trump branded products. Appearing on the Fox And Friends TV show, Conway said: "Go buy Ivanka's stuff, is what I would say. I hate shopping --I'm going to buy stuff today." Later in the show she said, "It's a wonderful line. I own some of it...I'm going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online."
Asked about these comments, which ethics experts criticized her heavily, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said, "She has been counselled on that subject, and that's it".
Only divesting is enough
Ethics experts have said that Trump's actions to supposedly prevent conflicts of interest fall very short of sufficient. Trump pledged not to make any new deals while President, and claims he has removed himself from day-to-day operations of his company. Critics say that so long as Trump continues to profit from his businesses, whether or not he makes the decisions is irrelevant. Anyway, his adult sons are in charge of the company, and have already sat in on meetings with world leaders.
The "Winter White House" is far from the only case where Trump is using his public position to advance his personal income. The Atlantic catalogued no less than 31 "clear-cut examples" of other conflicts of interest.
Whether or not he will escape legal consequences is unclear. Ever since his presidency began there have been petitions seeking to impeach Trump for violating the US constitution, particularly the "emoluments clause". In the meantime, Trump is intent on using his position as a public servant in the White House to generate personal income.