When it comes to self-promotion and deception, there seems no limit as Trump seeks to gain financially from today’s visit with the Prime Minister of Japan.
Mother Jones reported earlier this year that: “No president in modern history has run roughshod over the laws, guidelines, and norms of running an ethical and transparent administration like Donald Trump.”
He’s refused to divest any of his business holdings or meaningfully separate himself from his company. He’s visited (and so promoted) his private properties and golf courses at a breathtaking clip: Of his first 362 days in office, Trump spent one-third of them—121 days—at a Trump property, according to NBC News. His business has cashed in on his presidency by hiking membership fees and peddling access. His aides have promoted Trump family properties and products. A year in, it is fair to describe the Trump administration’s approach to clean, ethical government as, well, nonexistent.
Tuesday’s press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago Resort proved to be a textbook example of Trump’s lawless approach to governance.
It’s bad enough that he was ruthlessly self-promoting his Mar-a-Lago Resort, but he also felt it necessary to lie through his teeth as well.
Prime Minister Abe spoke briefly at the start of the news conference after being introduced by Trump.
“Well, thank you very much,” Trump responded before making a sales pitch for his resort.
Many of the world’s great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago and Palm Beach. They like it; I like it. We’re comfortable. We have great relationships. As you remember, we were here and President Xi of China was here…. And again, many, many people want to be here. Many of the leaders want to be here. They request specifically.
Mother Jones addressed this kind of situation in their article, talking to several “experts in clean government, ethics, anti-corruption, and transparency who have tracked the administration describe what they see as Trump’s most egregious ethical failings from his first year in office.“
Jessica Tillipman, assistant dean at George Washington University, expert on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and anti-corruption law, weighed in, stating that:
My first question is: I can only pick one? If the answer is yes, the biggest one is obviously going to be Trump’s continued ownership stake in his properties.
Government officials, foreign governments, outside organizations—any of them seeking to influence him or just have access to him can do so by frequenting his hotels, going to Mar-a-Lago.
Larry Noble, senior director and general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center and former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission, had a similar observation, stating:
In January of 2017 [Trump] refused to divest himself from his businesses but claimed he would put them in a “trust” to be run by his sons to avoid the appearance of using his office for personal gain. But it later came out it was a revocable trust and he was still getting reports on the businesses and he could claim the profits. Against this background, he has routinely used the presidency to promote his Washington hotel, Mar-a-Lago resort, and golf courses.
In one sense, Trump is correct—he does not have any conflict of interest, as his only interest is self-interest.
Similarly, Norm Eisen, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and former ethics czar under President Barack Obama, stated:
There are so many candidates: the conflicts that arise from keeping his businesses; the exploitation of the presidency to promote them, with over 110 days spent at his own properties—about a third of his presidency.
In that context, Trump’s sales pitch for Mar-a-Lago was not unexpected. However, what was interesting was the following fictitious history he recited regarding the resort:
[Mar-a-Lago] was originally built as the Southern White House. It was called the Southern White House. It was given to the United States, and then Jimmy Carter decided it was too expensive for the United States. So they, fortunately for me, gave it back and I bought it. Who would have thought? It was a circuitous route. But now it is, indeed, the Southern White House.
In reality Mar-a-Lago was originally built from 1924 to 1927 by cereal-company heiress and owner of General Foods, Inc. Marjorie Merriweather Post to serve as one of her three homes.
The Smithsonian reported that:
Even by Palm Beach standards, Mar-a-Lago was grandiose: 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms with gold-plated fixtures (easier to clean, Post believed), an 1,800-square-foot living room with 42-foot ceilings. Its 110,000 square feet glinted with gold leaf, Spanish tiles, Italian marble and Venetian silks. All told, Post spent $7 million—somewhere north of $90 million today.
Continuing, The Smithsonian reported that many of the grand houses that were built in the 1920s were torn down in the 1950s and 1960s. However, Post had other plans for Mar-a-Lago and her other two properties: Hillwood, her estate in Washington, D.C., and Camp Topridge, her retreat in the Adirondacks.
She arranged to donate all three properties to government entities. The state of New York added some of Topridge’s acreage to a forest preserve but sold most of its 68 buildings to a private owner. The Smithsonian Institution, citing maintenance costs, returned Hillwood to the Post Foundation, which now runs it as a museum.
And the original Mar-a-Lago proposal, the one bound in red leather, was to donate it to the state of Florida for a center for advanced scholars, but state officials also balked at the maintenance costs.
By 1968, according to other papers in the archive, Post had turned to Plan B: Mar-a-Lago as winter White House, property of the United States. After she died, in 1973, at age 86, the Post Foundation pursued the idea. But in 1981, the federal government declined, for the same reason the Floridians and the Smithsonian did.
It seems that there is no lie too small, no abuse that is beneath Trump when it comes to the pursuit of money and prestige.
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