Obama ethics lawyer says Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is a ‘symbol of corruption’

Mr Trump has referred to Mar-a-Lago as the 'Southern White House'

Clark Mindock
New York
Monday 07 May 2018 22:44 BST
The former ethics lawyer has frequently disagreed with Mr Trump
The former ethics lawyer has frequently disagreed with Mr Trump (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A former director of the US Office of Government Ethics says that President Donald Trump’s Florida Mar-a-Lago resort has become a “symbol of corruption” for this administration.

Walter Shaub, who served during the administration of President Barack Obama and then briefly during that of Mr Trump, said in a Monday opinion article in the Washington Post that the president calling the Florida estate the “Southern White House” amounts to a marketing pitch for people who want to pay for insider access.

“The initiation fee, which Trump doubled upon winning the election, is $200,000,” Mr Shaub wrote in that article “He may belong to the people now, but the club belongs to the people.”

Mr Shaub left the Trump administration in July 2017, and has now taken up a post as senior director of ethics for the Campaign Legal Center.

He says that Mr Trump is effectively “monetizing the presidency” through the promotion of his properties.

“Making explicit the commingling of personal and public interests, the Trump Tower gift shop has been caught grotesquely hawking a Trump mug bearing the presidential seal, and the Trump Organization ordered tee markers with that seal for his golf courses,” Mr Shaub wrote.

“Each of his trips to his properties is an advertisement, inasmuch as the media must follow him and that he never misses an opportunity for promotion.”

Mr Shaub continued to note that at least some of the money that is spent at the properties he visits goes back into his bank account.

“I would say Trump is getting the kind of advertising money can’t buy,” Mr Shaub wrote, “but we taxpayers are paying tens of millions for him to spend almost a third of his days in office visiting his properties. Some of the money goes into his pocket.”

Mr Shaub says that there is more at play than just Mr Trump’s personal approach to potential conflicts of interest. He is also setting the tone for the civilian federal employees who work for the government Mr Trump is currently leading.

“It tells the 2.8 million civilian federal employees who work for him that the man at the top doesn’t care about government ethics,” he wrote. “This departure from our government’s norms creates a pressure that the government ethics program may not be able to withstand indefinitely, especially if Trump’s successor engages in similar behavior.”

Mr Trump’s business properties — especially the Trump hotel in Washington — have been the focus of legal concerns, with some questioning whether the president’s promotion of the properties might violate the emoluments clause that prohibits the president from receiving improper payments from individual states and foreign governments.

That has included at least one lawsuit filed by Maryland and Washington against mr Trump, which cleared an initial legal hurdle in March.

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