Taxpayers billed for an official’s brief stay at Mar-a-Lago
The bedroom suites at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, available only to members and their guests, feature handpainted Moorish ceilings, antique Spanish-tiled mosaics and sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean.
On a weekend in early March, during one of seven trips by Trump and his White House entourage to the posh Palm Beach property since the inauguration, the government paid the Trump-owned club to reserve at least one bedroom for two nights.
The charge, according to a newly disclosed receipt reviewed by The Washington Post ,was $1,092.
The amount was based on a per-night price of $546, which, according to the bill, was Mara-Lago’s “rack rate,” the hotel industry term for a standard, non-discounted price.
The receipt, which was obtained in recent days by the transparency advocacy group Property of the People and verified by The Post, offers one of the first concrete signs that Trump’s use of Mar-a-Lago as the “Winter White House” has resulted in taxpayer funds flowing directly into the coffers of his private business.
Given the number of highprofile presidential events at Mar-a-Lago, questions about who pays for meals and rooms have generally gone unanswered. When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited in February, the White House made a point of saying that Abe would stay at the club free of charge as a personal guest of Trump.
The March invoice was provided to the advocacy group by the Coast Guard in response to a broader Freedom of Information Act request seeking records on the agency’s expenses related to Trump-affiliated properties. The Coast Guard FOIA office searched the agency’s credit card payment records, which led it to the invoice, according to an explanation provided by the agency.
It is not clear whether the invoice stemmed from a one-time occurrence or represented one of many Mar-a-Lago rooms that have been booked at government expense for presidential aides or other officials since Trump took office and began traveling there on a regular basis.
The document from March does not reveal anything about the occupant beyond a note atop the page that reads: “National Security Council.”
Some ethics experts say the government payment to Mar-a-Lago raises concerns about the domestic emoluments clause, which was intended to prevent the president from receiving payments beyond his salary from state or federal governments.
Financial disclosures filings show that Mar-a-Lago is 99 percent owned by Trump’s revocable trust, from which the president can withdraw money at any time. The club made $37 million in resort-related revenue from January 2016 to this April.
On the weekend that the government paid for the room, March 3 and 4, Trump was joined by a large retinue of administration officials, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then-chief strategist Stephen Bannon and then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who has since become Trump’s chief of staff.
The question of whether the president’s company can profit directly from the government is raised in an emoluments lawsuit that was filed by an ethics watchdog group in January.
Much of the attention to the case has focused on the Constitution’s ban on foreign “emoluments” and the business practices of Trump’s Washington hotel. The Constitution also states that the U.S. president “shall not receive … any other emolument” from the United States other than his fixed salary.
Trump has said the suit is without merit, and his company has pledged to donate profits from foreign countries to the U.S. Treasury. His attorney, Sheri Dillon, has said that transactions such as hotel room payments are “arm’slength” transactions that would not amount to an “emolument.”
Oral arguments are scheduled for the suit next month in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.