Trump re­sort mem­bers added to diplo­matic ranks

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Milwaukee Wisconsin - Brad Heath Con­tribut­ing: Steve Reilly, John Kelly and Fre­dreka Schouten

WASHINGTON – When Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump needed an am­bas­sador to rep­re­sent the United States in Ro­ma­nia, he en­listed a real es­tate lawyer who was a mem­ber of one of his pri­vate golf clubs.

For South Africa and the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, he tapped long­time mem­bers of his pri­vate Mar-a-Lago re­sort in Palm Beach, Florida. To rep­re­sent the U.S. govern­ment in Hun­gary, he chose a man from an­other Florida club op­er­ated by the pres­i­dent’s pri­vate com­pa­nies.

Am­bas­sador­ships long have been among Washington’s choic­est po­lit­i­cal prizes, and pres­i­dents fre­quently award them to friends, po­lit­i­cal al­lies and cam­paign donors.

“There was al­ways a coun­try club men­tal­ity with some of this,” said Scott Amey, gen­eral coun­sel for the Project on Govern­ment Over­sight, a non­par­ti­san group that in­ves­ti­gates govern­ment ethics.

The dif­fer­ence is that the pres­i­dent also is the coun­try club’s pro­pri­etor, and he has handed out for­eign post­ings and other govern­ment jobs to his pay­ing cus­tomers.

Mem­ber­ship rolls of Trump’s clubs are not pub­lic. USA TO­DAY iden­ti­fied mem­bers through in­ter­views, news ac­counts and a web­site golfers use to track their hand­i­caps.

Since he took of­fice, Trump has ap­pointed at least eight peo­ple who iden­ti­fied them­selves as cur­rent or for­mer mem­bers of his club to se­nior posts in his ad­min­is­tra­tion. USA TO­DAY iden­ti­fied five of those ap­pointees in mid-2017, prompt­ing crit­i­cism from ethics watch­dogs that the se­lec­tions blurred the bound­ary be­tween Trump’s pub­lic du­ties and his pri­vate fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests. Since then, Trump has ap­pointed three other mem­bers as am­bas­sadors in Europe and Africa. One has been con­firmed by the Sen­ate.

Fed­eral ethics rules don’t pro­hibit the pres­i­dent from nom­i­nat­ing his cus­tomers or his mem­bers from ac­cept­ing. Nei­ther govern­ment ethics lawyers nor the law­mak­ers who must ap­prove the nom­i­na­tions tra­di­tion­ally ques­tion whether would-be mem­bers of the ad­min­is­tra­tion have pri­vate busi­ness re­la­tion­ships with the pres­i­dent.

Be­com­ing a mem­ber of one of Trump’s clubs can re­quire ini­ti­a­tion fees of $100,000 or more, plus thou­sands more a year in dues – though the amounts vary widely. The money goes to Trump’s pri­vate com­pany. That firm is held in a trust dur­ing his pres­i­dency, but Trump is its sole ben­e­fi­ciary, en­ti­tled to with­draw money from it when­ever he chooses.

Trump’s U.S. golf clubs alone brought in about $600 mil­lion in 2015 and 2016, ac­cord­ing to his fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure re­ports. It is un­known how much of that is profit be­cause, un­like re­cent pres­i­dents, Trump has not re­leased his tax re­turns.

The three mem­bers Trump nom­i­nated to am­bas­sador­ships last year joined the clubs long be­fore Trump sought the pres­i­dency. They de­clined to an­swer ques­tions about their mem­ber­ships.

Lana Marks, a lux­ury hand­bag de­signer Trump nom­i­nated last year as am­bas­sador to South Africa, grew up in that coun­try but moved away more than four decades ago. She has spent most of her ca­reer build­ing a busi­ness around bags that can cost $10,000 or more.

Marks de­clined to an­swer ques­tions about her nom­i­na­tion, her qual­i­fi­ca­tions or her mem­ber­ship in Mar-a-Lago, a short drive from her Palm Beach home.

Trump nom­i­nated Adrian Zuck­er­man, a New York real es­tate lawyer, to be the U.S. am­bas­sador to Ro­ma­nia last year. Zuck­er­man reg­is­tered his golf hand­i­cap through Trump’s club in Bed­min­ster, New Jersey, a ser­vice the club said is avail­able only to mem­bers.

Trump named Cal­lista Gin­grich, a long­time mem­ber of his Vir­ginia golf club and wife of for­mer House Speaker and Trump con­fi­dant Newt Gin­grich, as the U.S. am­bas­sador to the Vat­i­can. He chose Robin Bern­stein, a found­ing mem­ber of Mar-a-Lago, as am­bas­sador to the Do­mini­can Repub­lic. Both were con­firmed by the Sen­ate.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.