WASHINGTON A U.S. State Department website published an article this month about President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, stoking criticism from prominent ethics experts.
The article was posted on April 4 on the “Share America” website, overseen by the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs. It was also shared on the websites and social media pages of several U.S. embassies, including those in the United Kingdom and Albania, as well as the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.
It describes the history of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, and its size, status as a registered historic site, interior decoration and oceanfront location.
“By visiting this ‘winter White House,’ Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer,” socialite and cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, the article says. “Post’s dream of a winter White House came true with Trump’s election in 2016.”
Though posted weeks ago, the article surfaced on Monday when it was shared widely on social media.
Democratic U.S. Senator Ron Wyden criticized the “Share America” article on Twitter as “kleptocratic,” and Norman Eisen, ethics chief under Trump’s predecessor, Democratic President Barack Obama, said on Twitter that the article violated a federal statute barring the use of public office for private gain.
Richard Painter, a former ethics lawyer for Republican President George W. Bush, said on Twitter that the post constituted “use of public office for private gain pure and simple.”
The State Department and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The “Share America” article says that in 1973, Post willed the estate to the U.S. government, intending it to be used as a winter White House for the president to entertain foreign dignitaries.
But Presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter never used the property, and in 1981 the government returned the estate to the Post Foundation because it was costing too much to maintain, according to the article.
Trump, a businessman turned politician, bought the property in 1985, and turned it into a club open to dues-paying members 10 years later, it says. (For the article, see: bit.ly/2ophVoV)
The club has a $200,000 membership fee, and Trump has hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the resort. Trump’s frequent visits there have come under scrutiny due to their expense and questions of how he has handled sensitive national security information while there.
Trump maintains ownership of his global business empire, though he has handed off control to his two oldest sons, an arrangement that ethics watchdogs said would not prevent conflicts of interest.
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)