WASHINGTON — There was U.S. President Donald Trump, in the middle of his Mar-a-Lago resort, conferring with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on decisions with national security implications over iceberg wedge salads. The club members snapped photos and posted them to Facebook with detailed narratives about what they were seeing unfold before their eyes Saturday night in Palm Beach, Florida.
“HOLY MOLY !!! It was fascinating to watch the flurry of activity at dinner when the news came that North Korea had launched a missile in the direction of Japan,” Richard DeAgazio wrote on his public Facebook page.
Welcome to the social media presidency — and all of the security and ethical challenges it poses.
DeAgazio also posed for a photo with a man whom he said carries the “nuclear football” for the president. He’s since deleted his account and did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
Read the latest on U.S. President Donald Trump
CNN and other news outlets used DeAgazio’s and other social media accounts to write about what seemed to be an open-air situation room. The publicly shared photos showed Trump, illuminated by cellphone flashlights, conducting national security business on the terrace of his oceanfront resort, in an area accessible to dues-paying members.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said no classified material was discussed at the dinner table and that the president had been briefed previously and afterward in a secure setting. He said the photos on social media depicted Trump and Abe aides discussing the logistics of a press conference they were about to hold.
Yet Democrats said the scene at Mar-a-Lago seemed to pose security risks. Trump spent much of his campaign blasting opponent Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server to conduct business while she was secretary of State, something Trump said was not nearly secure enough.
“There’s inconsistency all over the place in terms of how much Donald Trump raised national security on the campaign trail and how he is now operating as president,” said Brian Fallon, who was Clinton’s campaign spokesman. “And there’s hypocrisy from congressional leaders who demagogued this issue, constantly accusing Hillary Clinton of doing something that was far less egregious than this very conspicuous departure from security protocols.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote on Twitter, “There’s no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theatre.”
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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump “never should have had such a sensitive discussion in such a public place.”
Some Republicans appeared frustrated by Trump’s Saturday night powwow. “You can’t make it up,” said Arizona Sen. John McCain, a frequent Trump critic of late.
“Usually that’s not a place where you do that kind of thing,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
The chairman of that committee, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, seemed dismissive of the concerns.
“If the president didn’t speak of things that couldn’t be spoken of in public, then there’s no problem with it,” he said. He said he saw no immediate need for a briefing on the matter.
There’s also an ethical component: Mar-a-Lago memberships now cost $200,000. Some of that money makes its way back to the president, since he has stepped away from operating his businesses but not given up his financial stake.
That means those who can afford it get special access to Trump, who has dubbed Mar-a-Lago his “Winter White House” and now has travelled there two weekends in a row for official duties.
“This is all a symptom of Donald Trump continuing to comingle his business ventures with his official government duties,” Fallon said. “He’s trying to make Mar-a-Lago more of a destination for paying members and paying diners by bringing state visitors there.”
After working through the details of their joint response to North Korea, the two world leaders stepped into a wedding being held on Trump’s property. A guest shot a minute-long video of Trump’s impromptu speech, which was then shared with New York Magazine.
“I said to the prime minister of Japan, I said, ‘Come on, Shinzo, let’s go over and say hello,” Trump says in the video. “It’s an honour to be with you, and you really are a special, beautiful couple.”
The groom, Carl Henry Lindner IV, is the son of the chief executive of American Financial Group. The elder Lindner gave $100,000 last fall to two super PACs supporting Trump.
At the wedding, the video showed, the president kissed the bride on the cheek and encouraged the guests to get back to dancing.
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