Trump's sunny playground for rich and powerful

A portrait of Mr Trump hangs in the bar. The club was built by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who sold it to Mr Trump in 1985. Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump's members-only Palm Beach, Florida, club, has been transformed into the part-time capital
Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump's members-only Palm Beach, Florida, club, has been transformed into the part-time capital of the US government, a winter White House, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access to the government that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists. Inside the estate, members can mingle in the card room (above), soak up some sun poolside, play croquet, or lounge around in the main living room.PHOTO: NYTIMES
A portrait of Mr Trump hangs in the bar. The club was built by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who sold it to Mr Trump in 1985. Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump's members-only Palm Beach, Florida, club, has been transformed into the part-time capital
Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump's members-only Palm Beach, Florida, club, has been transformed into the part-time capital of the US government, a winter White House, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access to the government that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists. Inside the estate, members can mingle in the card room, soak up some sun poolside (above), play croquet, or lounge around in the main living room.PHOTO: NYTIMES
A portrait of Mr Trump hangs in the bar. The club was built by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who sold it to Mr Trump in 1985. Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump's members-only Palm Beach, Florida, club, has been transformed into the part-time capital
A portrait of Mr Trump hangs in the bar. The club was built by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who sold it to Mr Trump in 1985. Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump's members-only Palm Beach, Florida, club, has been transformed into the part-time capital of the US government, a winter White House, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access to the government that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists. Inside the estate, members can (clockwise from left) mingle in the card room, soak up some sun poolside, play croquet, or lounge around in the main living room.PHOTOS: NYTIMES
A portrait of Mr Trump hangs in the bar. The club was built by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who sold it to Mr Trump in 1985. Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump's members-only Palm Beach, Florida, club, has been transformed into the part-time capital
Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump's members-only Palm Beach, Florida, club, has been transformed into the part-time capital of the US government, a winter White House, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access to the government that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists. Inside the estate, members can mingle in the card room, soak up some sun poolside, play croquet, or lounge around in the main living room (above).PHOTO: NYTIMES
A portrait of Mr Trump hangs in the bar. The club was built by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who sold it to Mr Trump in 1985. Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump's members-only Palm Beach, Florida, club, has been transformed into the part-time capital
A portrait of Mr Trump hangs in the bar. The club was built by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who sold it to Mr Trump in 1985.PHOTO: NYTIMES

MAR-A-LAGO • On any given weekend, you may catch President Donald Trump's son-in-law and top Middle East dealmaker, Mr Jared Kushner, by the beachside soft-serve ice cream machine, or his reclusive chief strategist, Mr Stephen Bannon, on the dining patio.

If you are lucky, the President himself could stop by your table for a quick chat. But you will have to pay US$200,000 (S$284,000) for the privilege - and the few available spots are going fast.

Virtually overnight, Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump's members-only Palm Beach, Florida, club, has been transformed into the part-time capital of the US government, a winter White House where Mr Trump has entertained a foreign head of state, healthcare industry executives and other presidential guests.

But Mr Trump's gatherings at Mar-a-Lago have also created an arena for potential political influence rarely seen in US history: a sunny playground of the rich and powerful, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists.

Membership lists reviewed by The New York Times show that the club's nearly 500 paying members include dozens of real estate developers, Wall Street financiers, energy executives and others whose businesses could be affected by Mr Trump's policies. At least three members are under consideration for an ambassadorship.

 
 

The weekly gatherings at Mar-a-Lago, however, have drawn scrutiny from Democrats in the Senate, who have called for Mr Trump to release a list of all of the members.

Mr Trump's son Eric last Friday rejected suggestions that his family was offering access to his father and profiting from it. Only 20 to 40 new members are admitted annually, he said, and the wealthy business executives who frequent the club, among others, have many ways to communicate with the federal government if they want to.

White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks said the President had no conflicts of interest, a reference to the fact that federal law exempts him from provisions prohibiting federal employees from taking actions that could benefit themselves financially. "But regardless, he has not and will not be discussing policy with club members," she said. Mar-a-Lago "was intended to be the Southern White House, and the President looks forward to hosting many world leaders at this remarkable property".

N Y TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2017, with the headline 'Trump's sunny playground for rich and powerful'. Print Edition | Subscribe