Trump teeing off with Tiger Woods, but vows the round of golf will go ‘quickly’

President Trump made a rare acknowledgement Friday of his plans to play golf, noting in a tweet that he was teeing off with Tiger Woods but stressing he will play “quickly” before returning to the burdens of the office.

Trump, who is spending Thanksgiving weekend at Mar-a-Lago, said he will play with the golf legend as well as Dustin Johnson, currently ranked the world’s No. 1 golfer.

The threesome is scheduled to tee off at the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., about 20 miles north of the presidential retreat at Mar-a-Lago.

Trump was careful in his tweet to underscore he planned a quick round. He also said he was going to be talking to the president of Turkey and also focusing on the economy.

He also used his pre-golf morning to blast NFL players who “disrespect” the country, the flag and national anthem with their pre-game protests “without penalty.”
Since taking office, Trump has rarely acknowledged playing golf. In recent years, particularly during the 2016 campaign, he slammed President Obama repeatedly for playing the game, chiding his “work ethic” and even criticizing the president for going to Hawaii during the holiday and taking Secret Service personnel away from their families.

For his part, Trump pledged to largely forego golf while in office, saying he was “not going to have time to play golf.”

After a year in the Oval Office, however, published reports indicate he has played at least 34 times since the inauguration and has visited his golf courses more than 70 times.

In addition, the traveling press is rarely allowed to observe his rounds and aides traditionally decline to say when the golf is played.

This week, after the presidential entourage arrived in Florida, the White House had to correct itself after a spokesperson initially said she was expecting a “low-key day” while the president spent time at the Florida resort. Minutes later, the correction was that the president “will NOT have a low-key day.”

Abut 90 minutes later, however, the press poll noted the motorcade arriving at a Trump golf club near West Palm Beach and left some five hours later, the New York Post reported.

Aides were mum on how he spent the time period, which is roughly the length of a round of golf, unless you play quickly.

[USA Today]


Donald Trump has visited a Trump property, which he still owns and receives profits from, 34 out of his 45 weeks in office so far.

Trump’s team insists he has a ‘full schedule’ an hour before he goes golfing

President Trump is at Mar-a-Lago, his resort in Palm Beach, Fla., for the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, a day that can generally be fairly described as low-key for most people. In fact, you’re not even reading this right now; you’re driving to a relative’s house or you’re trying to remember what you need to get at the grocery store.

“Low-key” is also how deputy White House press secretary Lindsay Walters described the day to the press pool Wednesday morning. Trump would make a few calls this week, she said, but otherwise not much going on.

Less than 10 minutes later, though, the White House asked the press pool for a correction.

“While the White House communications staff expects the press pool to have a ‘low-key day,’” the update from The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson wrote, “the president will NOT have a low-key day and has a full schedule of meetings and phone calls.”

Got that? Not Trump on vacation at Mar-a-Lago. Trump working hard at what he calls the “Winter White House.” Trump tweeted to that effect Wednesday morning.

Trump calls it the “Winter White House” so that people will see his time there as an extension of his normal work life. In one sense it is: A president is never actually off-duty. In most senses, though, it isn’t. Trump’s calendar is generally clear when he’s at Mar-a-Lago (or at his club in Bedminster, N.J.), with time instead reserved for playing golf.

But Trump consistently wants to give Americans the impression that he’s working when he’s at one of his private clubs. This is the president, after all, who on the campaign trail insisted that he probably wouldn’t have time to play golf if elected. It’s why he always talks about phone calls and meetings that aren’t on his official calendar, taking advantage of the public’s assumption that a president is working 24/7 to provide cover for the time he spends at leisure.

So we get a parade of tweets like these.

[Washington Post]

Trump chooses not to deport wealthy Chinese fugitive – after finding out he’s a Mar-a-Lago member

President Donald Trump was reportedly on the verge of deporting billionaire Chinese fugitive Guo Wengui, but changed his mind after aides informed him that Guo is a fellow billionaire and a member in good standing at the president’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago.

According to Vanity Fair‘s Isobel Thompson, Guo is wanted on charges of rape, bribery and kidnapping in his native China.

Much like Trump, the international fugitive is a wealthy real-estate developer with a massive Twitter following and an intense interest in building and promoting his personal brand.

Longtime Trump friend and casino magnate Steve Wynn delivered Trump a letter from the Chinese government demanding Guo’s extradition. Trump was inclined to take his friend’s advice, in spite of the conflict of interest posed by the fact that Wynn is dependent upon China’s approval to obtain licenses for his casinos in Macau.

Guo built a real estate empire in Beijing, but fled China in 2014 after being informed that he was about to be arrested. Since then he has taunted the Chinese government on Twitter, telling sensational — and possibly apocryphal — stories about Chinese government corruption.

There is no extradition treaty between China and the U.S. — meaning Trump is not obligated to hand over criminals wanted in China. Guo bought a $67.5 million apartment overlooking Central Park in New York City.

In May, Chinese government operatives visited Guo at his apartment — in violation of their visa status.

Thompson explained, “Entering the country on a visa that allows foreign government officials to travel through America en route to another destination without conducting official business, they met Guo at his apartment and pressured him to return to China and drop his accusations.”

The officials were nearly arrested at JFK airport, which could have sparked an international incident.

In June, Trump met with aides to discuss foreign policy toward China. He stunned the group by producing the letter forwarded to him by Wynn and saying that he was inclined to agree to the extradition.

Fearing that the handover would make the U.S. look weak and establish a dangerous precedent with foreign governments, aides urged set about trying to convince Trump not to fulfill China’s request.

They informed Trump that Guo “happens to be a member of his Mar-a-Lago resort (a privilege that costs $200,000 in initiation fees plus $14,000 in annual dues),” Thompson said. “The president subsequently changed his mind, exposing a secondary set of even more problematic biases. Apparently, Trump was more than happy to allow a wealthy friend to pressure him on foreign policy — until he was made aware of an even more pressing concern,” the possibility of losing a paying member of Mar-a-Lago.

[Raw Story]

Secret Service paid Mar-a-Lago at least $63,000, documents show

The U.S. Secret Service paid tens of thousands of dollars to President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in the span of a few months, according to documents obtained by CNN.

The expense forms show that taxpayer dollars have flowed into Trump’s private club as a result of his repeated visits to the so-called Winter White House, which pulls in millions a year from members who pay a premium for its oceanside amenities and bedroom suites.

Most of the $63,700 in payments from the Secret Service to Mar-a-Lago were made between February and April, and were categorized as hotel costs on government expense forms. The payments are detailed in forms and more than a dozen invoices on Mar-a-Lago letterhead ranging from $1,300 to $11,050.

The purposes of the expenses were not spelled out in the documents, which were redacted before CNN reviewed them. The redactions make it unclear whether there were additional payments to Mar-a-Lago.

Experts said the bills could be for rooms rented to agents, space leased for communications equipment or other purposes.

The payments to Mar-a-Lago are just a fraction of the total Secret Service costs detailed in the records CNN reviewed, which include bills from other hotels, car rental companies and event services in South Florida.

Although the Secret Service routinely pays private businesses for costs that arise while protecting the president, government ethics hawks argue Trump may personally profit from his visits. Or worse, they allege, he’s violated the Constitution.

The payments appear to overlap with some of Trump’s weekend visits to the club in Palm Beach, Florida. After his inauguration, Trump spent a total of 25 full or partial days at the Mar-a-Lago between February 3 and April 16.

Trump transferred Mar-a-Lago and his other business holdings into a trust while he serves as president. But he refused to follow precedent by divesting his holdings, and he stands to accrue any business profits when he leaves office.

His financial disclosure forms for this year show that Mar-a-Lago made $37 million in revenue between January 2016 and April 2017. The club raised its membership initiation fee in January to $200,000, double what it was a year earlier.

While the Secret Service payments are a small share of the revenue, critics of the administration, along with prominent experts in government ethics, say Secret Service payments to Mar-A-Lago could violate a constitutional provision meant to prevent self-dealing and corruption.

The domestic emoluments clause bars the president from accepting gifts, or emoluments, other than his compensation from the federal, state, or local governments.

Whether the Mar-A-Lago charges amount to “gifts” is up for debate. It may rest on how much Secret Service paid for services or rooms at the resort. That information is redacted on the documents reviewed by CNN.

“The president risks violating the domestic emoluments clause if his company is making money off of the Secret Service,” said Richard Painter, the former White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush. “To avoid that, Mar-a-Lago should either charge Secret Service a rate federal employees are authorized to pay for a hotel room under ordinary circumstances or not charge at all.”

But waiving all charges could create additional legal issues under rules that prohibit gifts to government agencies.

Earlier this year, a government transparency group called Property of the People obtained a receipt from the Coast Guard for a stay at Mar-a-Lago. That document revealed the government was billed the so-called rack rate — an industry term that usually suggests the non-discounted price for a hotel room. That charge amounted to $1,092 for a two-night stay.

Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent who served in the Presidential Protection Division, pointed out that, putting ethics arguments aside, the president always requires some level of Secret Service protection.

Although some agents could stay at nearby hotels, he said at least some members of the detail must stay with the president day and night in the event of an emergency.

“The Secret Service will make every attempt to be financially cautious, but there is an operational necessity for particular people to stay in close proximately to the president 24 hours a day,” said Wackrow, a CNN law enforcement analyst. “And they can’t sleep in the hallway.”

He said additional charges to the Secret Service could arise from the need for storage space for communications equipment, or for additional workspace.

The Mar-a-Lago expenses, detailed in records released by the Secret Service after CNN submitted a Freedom of Information Act request, are not the first payments made by the Secret Service for the use of a property owned by a White House official.

Federal contracting data show the Secret Service has paid about $170,000 to rent former Vice President Joe Biden’s property in Wilmington, Delaware since 2011.

Democrats have seized on other examples of government money flowing into Trump’s businesses to support criticism that the president may be profiting personally from his office.

In August, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee requested documents from federal agencies that detail taxpayer money going to products or services “provided by businesses owned by or affiliated with the Trump Organization.”

A spokesperson said the committee is in the process of collecting responses.

The Trump Organization and the White House did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.


The Strongest Evidence Yet Donald Trump Is Violating Constitutional Anti-Corruption Clauses

Since Donald Trump took office in January, his presidency has been dogged by concerns about how he may be profiting off the executive office. Now, thanks to receipts obtained by the transparency group Property of the People via the Freedom of Information Act, there’s evidence that the White House’s National Security Council paid more than $1,000 for a two-night stay at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on March 3 and 4 of this year. Trump owns the resort, and the profits are stored in a trust managed by Donald Trump Jr. and Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen H. Weisselberg that the president can pull funds from at any time. As a consequence, these receipts may be evidence of a violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the president from receiving any compensation from federal, state, or local governments beyond the salary he earns as chief executive.

The Mar-a-Lago documents, which Property of the People obtained through the Coast Guard (a division of the Department of Homeland Security), show the National Security Council paid full price—the “rack rate”—for the rooms using a government travel charge card. The room cost $546 a night, according to the receipt. The Trump administration has at times referred to the Mar-a-Lago estate as the “Winter White House” or the “Southern White House.”

On Saturday, March 4, the second of the two days in question, President Trump was seen mingling at a lavish charity ball hosted by the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at Mar-a-Lago, where he reportedly had dinner earlier that evening with then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, John Kelly, former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, and White House counsel Don McGahn. This was Trump’s third visit to his Palm Beach golf estate since his inauguration in January and two days after Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into the president’s ties with Russia. Saturday, March 4, was also a prolific day for President Trump on Twitter; he found the time to lodge an unfounded claim that President Obama had wiretapped Trump’s office at the White House and take a jab at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “bad (pathetic) ratings” on the television show Trump used to host, Celebrity Apprentice.

The documents obtained by Property of the People also show that a government travel charge card was used to pay a March hotel bill at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas at a cost of $186. Trump himself owns 50 percent of the property. The documents also detail three February charges totaling $62, also paid by government card, at the restaurant at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

The documents obtained by Property of the People further show that the U.S. Embassy paid $632 for four nights in June at the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Panama. Though Trump does not own this property, he collected more than $800,000 in fees from his Panamanian hotel management corporation, which he does own. That $632 bill was paid for with a government travel charge card. For competitive reasons, businesses do their best to keep the specifics of such licensing and management deals private, but court records have shown that Trump has struck deals connected to similar properties in which his payout was tied to the project’s success.

In February, the Washington Post reported that the State Department had spent $15,000 to rent 19 rooms at a Trump property in Vancouver shortly after Trump took office. That property isn’t directly owned by Donald Trump but rather by a Canadian company called the Holborn Group. Still, Trump makes money from licensing the Trump brand. According to his 2017 financial disclosure, which covers the period from January 2016 through April 2017, Trump earned $5 million in royalties from the Vancouver hotel.

Under the Domestic Emoluments Clause, “it doesn’t matter whether the benefit results from a payment made in the United States or outside it,” said Brianne Gorod, chief counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center. “Likewise, any payment made to a business owned, in whole or in part, by the president raises serious questions under the clause because the president will ultimately enjoy a portion of any financial benefit these businesses receive.”

On June 14, the Constitutional Accountability Center filed a lawsuit against Trump for violating the Foreign Emoluments Clause. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, is the lead plaintiff in that suit, and 200 additional members of Congress have also joined the case. The Foreign Emoluments Clause states that anyone holding office in the United States cannot accept any benefit or gift from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. But Congress can’t waive the Domestic Emoluments Clause, according to Gorod.

In addition to the Blumenthal lawsuit, the attorneys general of Washington, D.C., and Maryland sued Trump over alleged emolument violations in June. The attorney general of Washington argues that the Trump International Hotel is taking away business from the taxpayer-owned convention center, as foreign embassies are opting to hold events and rent rooms at the Trump hotel instead. The Maryland attorney general likewise says Trump’s D.C. hotel is drawing business out of the state. And in January, the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a lawsuit accusing the president of violating the Foreign Emoluments Clause by accepting money from foreign governments at his Washington hotel. The CREW case is moving forward with oral arguments next month.

Ryan Shapiro, the co-founder of Property of the People, said, “We’re targeting government charge card records at numerous federal agencies.” He noted that while the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security were responsive with handing over federal records, others have been less forthcoming. Those less-responsive agencies, he said, “include the Secret Service, the State Department, the Department of Commerce, Customs and Border Patrol, the General Services Administration, and the Department of Defense.”


A Top Mar-A-Lago Employee Is Quietly Doing Government Work For Trump’s Foreign Trip

A top Mar-a-Lago employee is also working for the government to help prepare for President Trump’s visit to Taormina, Italy, for the G-7 Summit — an unconventional arrangement that further blurs the line between the president’s business empire and the White House.

Heather Rinkus, the guest reception manager at Trump’s “Winter White House,” is working with the president’s advance and logistics team, while Trump’s exclusive club, Mar-a-Lago, closes for the summer. She has an official White House email and government-issued phone, two sources familiar with Rinkus’s trip told BuzzFeed News.

An administration source confirmed to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that Rinkus was officially listed as an advance associate for the Taormina leg of the trip and had government-issued blackberry and email.

She is married to a twice-convicted felon, Ari Rinkus, who is known to brag about his wife’s access to the president as he trawls for investors and pursues government contracts on behalf of a foreign company, BuzzFeed News previously detailed.

Neither the White House nor the Trump Organization returned multiple requests for comment. They also did not answer a list of questions regarding Heather Rinkus’s role, including who is paying for her government work — taxpayers or Mar-a-Lago — or if Rinkus had resigned from Mar-a-Lago. (Asked about Heather Rinkus, a Mar-a-Lago employee, who answered the main phone line at the club, said Rinkus was traveling abroad for two to three weeks and would be back afterward.)

Heather Rinkus, who has no prior government experience, also did not respond to requests for comment on her role by phone or through her White House or personal email accounts.

Her dual role is the latest example of how closely intertwined the president’s inner circle is between his business and government, despite Trump’s claims of a firewall.

It also raises questions of whether other Trump Organization employees are quietly employed by the White House, as the administration struggles to staff up amid a chaotic few weeks. Trump, who likes to be surrounded by aides who are loyal to him, has already brought in senior adviser Hope Hicks, his longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller, and his social media director Dan Scavino from the Trump Organization.

Neither the White House nor the Trump Organization responded to inquiries about how much overlap in terms of employees exists between the two.

Heather Rinkus’s new role also provides more evidence of the family’s closeness to the administration, as her husband tries to use that access for personal gain.

Ari Rinkus, who is still on probation for pleading guilty to wire fraud as part of a Ponzi scheme, has told a foreign company, Securablinds, he can use Heather’s access to the president to secure government and Trump Organization contracts, BuzzFeed News previously reported.

Gavin Richardson, the CEO of UK-based Securablinds, contacted BuzzFeed News after reading the story and said Rinkus presented himself to the company’s executives as “well-connected with the Trump family,” claiming he could get a contract for the company to put its blinds in Trump Tower.

“He told us he discussed it with Eric Trump,” he said, referring to one of Trump’s sons.

Richardson said they were unaware of Rinkus’s criminal history because he went by “Ari Rink.” “I feel like we’re the victims really… He came across as credible because he talked about the Trump Organization.”

Rinkus told the Securablinds executives, Richardson said, that Heather Rinkus worked for the Trump Organization and that he had “passed (Securablinds’ information) on to different individuals in the Trump Organization” through her.

“Someone who has access to the Trump family would have been quite effective to us,” Richardson said, adding he terminated his involvement with Rinkus after reading BuzzFeed News’ story about his background.

Ari Rinkus pleaded guilty in 2006 to conducting a criminal enterprise — specifically, the “illegal possession and resale of stolen motor vehicles,” in Michigan, and in 2011, he again pleaded guilty in federal court to felony wire fraud for a Ponzi scheme. He was released from prison in 2014. He did not respond to requests for comment for this story either.

Heather Rinkus started working for Mar-a-Lago in 2015. She had previously worked for the Amway Hotel Corporation, which is owned by the family of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, as a front desk supervisor and later as a nanny.


State Department Posts on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Raise Ethics Concern

Trump Mar a Lago resort

A glowing description of President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago — calling it the “winter White House” — was posted on State Department websites, bringing criticism from ethics watchdogs and Democrats.

The item, published ahead of an early April meeting with China’s president at the Palm Beach club, recounted the club’s history and Trump’s purchase and gilded redecoration of the property where he’s spent half his weekends since taking office.

Under the heading “A Dream Deferred” — drawing on a famous line from the Langston Hughes poem “Harlem” — it said the original socialite owner wanted Mar-a-Lago to be a retreat for American presidents but notes it didn’t happen until Trump won the election.

The text appeared on the website for Share America, a State Department platform intended to “spark discussion and debate on important topics;” the website for the U.S. Embassy in the United Kingdom and the Facebook page for the U.S. Embassy in Albania.

Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was among those taking to Twitter to question whether the posts violated government ethics rules.

The State Department initially declined to comment on the posts, but later unpublished them and said, “The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the President has been hosting world leaders. We regret any misperception and have removed the post.”

Three ethics watchdogs who reviewed the posts before they were taken down told NBC News they were troubling.

“They represent violations of a federal ethics regulation which prohibits the use of public office to endorse a product or enterprise,” said Kathleen Clark, a professor at Washington University Law.

“Calling it the ‘winter White House’ appears to suggest that Mar-a-Lago has an official governmental role, which would appear to provide a governmental endorsement.”

Jordan Libowitz of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said the post “reads almost like an ad for Mar-a-Lago.”

“If they weren’t trying to drive business there, you have to wonder what they were doing,” said Libowitz, who has previously sued Trump over other alleged ethics violations.

John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation said it didn’t matter that the context for the posts was Trump’s meeting with China’s Xi Jinping.

“Publishing promotional materials for the President’s private business is clearly inappropriate, whether he is using it for official business or not,” he said. “There is only one White House. If you’re telling the story of Mar-a-Lago, it’s the president’s private business.”

Mar-a-Lago has been a lightning rod for those accusing the Trump administration of conflicts of interest.

While Trump has turned over control of his businesses to his sons, critics have pointed out that initiation fees were doubled to $200,000 after his election and that the president’s frequent appearances there could provide unique access to him for those who can pay.

An encounter between Trump and two former Colombian presidents, who were invited by a Mar-a-Lago member, also raised questions — with the White House denying there was a secret meeting to discuss opposition to a Colombian peace deal with revolutionaries.

As NBC News has reported, since his January inauguration, Trump has spent seven of 14 weekends at Mar-a-Lago and at least 28 percent of his term traveling to or staying at the estate.

(h/t NBC News)


The State Department has since removed the post.

President Trump Held Secret Pay to Play Mar-a-Lago Meeting with Two Colombian Ex-Presidents

President Trump secretly met with two former Colombian presidents critical of an Obama-era peace agreement between their home country’s sitting government and a far-left rebel group, according to a report.

Without listing it in his daily schedule or disclosing it to reporters, Trump met with Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana at his Mar-a-Lago estate last weekend, the Miami Herald first reported on Thursday.

The stealthy meeting was apparently facilitated by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been openly skeptical of the landmark peace agreement between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year for brokering the peace deal, which prompted outrage from some Colombians who say the FARC rebels are getting away with murder.

President Obama last year dedicated $450 million in foreign aid to help solidify the peace deal, which effectively ended a bloody 50-year power struggle between the leftist guerilla group and government forces. Obama faced backlash over the move, especially from Republicans.

It’s unclear what was discussed during last week’s Mar-a-Lago meeting, though speculation swirled that it might have been facilitated in an effort to tilt Trump’s opinion in a certain direction ahead of his sit-down with President Santos next month.

Santos is expected to ask Trump to make good on the Obama administration’s $450 million pledge.

The White House initially declined to discuss the matter, setting off a wave of speculation among Colombian media outlets.

A Trump administration spokeswoman eventually confirmed that the meeting occurred, but downplayed its significance, claiming that the two former Colombian heads of state just happened to be at the club at the same time as President Trump.

“There wasn’t anything beyond a quick hello,” the spokeswoman said, adding that the Colombian presidents were in the company of a Mar-a-Lago club member.

But Uribe and Pastrana, who are both staunch opponents of the peace deal with FARC, had a completely different take on the meet.

“Thanks to @POTUS @realDonaldTrump for the cordial and very frank conversation about problems and prospects of Colombia and the region,” Pastrana tweeted in Spanish after the meeting.

Uribe’s former vice president, Francisco Santos, echoed those comments, telling the Herald that the meeting was concise but to the point.

“We’re very worried,” Santos told the newspaper. “You have a perfect storm, and the (Santos) government says everything is going fine and we’re living in peace. And that’s not true.”

Trump’s secret meeting raises a number of questions, including his inclination to meet with people who are either connected to, or willing to themselves pay the $200,000 Mar-a-Lago membership fee.

Colombia’s ambassador to the U.S., Juan Carlos Pinzon, criticized Uribe and Pastrana for going through back channels to discuss sensitive matters with Trump ahead of Santos’ visit.

“We need to address these issues at home,” Pinzon told a Colombian radio station. “We need to wash our dirty laundry at home.”

(h/t New York Daily News)


President Trump has been in office for 91 days. He has spent 25 of them at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, often mingling with members and guests.

Since the election, the cost of membership has doubled to $200,000.

Mr. Trump often railed against pay-to-play politics on the campaign trail, repeatedly slamming a “broken system.”

Yet the access at Mar-a-Lago is unparalleled. Last weekend, two former presidents of Colombia were guests and quietly met with Mr. Trump.

Former Colombian President Andres Pastrana later tweeted about the meeting, thanking Mr. Trump for “the cordial and very frank conversation about the problems and prospects in Colombia and the region.”

The two men are opponents of current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has not yet met with Mr. Trump. The encounter was not on Mr. Trump’s public schedule.

Five days later, White House press secretary Sean Spicer seemed surprised to hear about it.

“I’m just saying I’m unaware of the circumstances,” Spicer told reporters.

The White House later said the men “briefly said hello when the president walked past them.”

Club members have posted photos with military officers and even with the president himself.

As North Korea Brews, Trump Again in Mar-a-Lago

President Donald Trump arrived for another weekend at his languid Florida resort on Thursday, this time without the usual retinue of top aides who have accompanied him in the past, even as global tensions flare.

Trump’s jaunt to Mar-a-Lago, his seventh since taking office in January, coincides with a closely watched anniversary in North Korea, where analysts have said the rogue regime may be preparing for a sixth nuclear test.

It wouldn’t be the first time Trump confronted a global incident from the confines of his terra-cotta-roofed oceanfront mansion.

During a visit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier this year, North Korea test fired ballistic missiles, prompting an impromptu strategy session on Mar-a-Lago’s dining patio. Last weekend, as Trump was hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping, he announced US missile strikes from Mar-a-Lago after conferring with top aides in a specially designed conference room.

A White House official said aides from the National Security Council were accompanying Trump during his trip to Florida this weekend, and the secure facility — kitted out with video-conferencing technology and other classified features — stands at the ready.
But other top aides, including senior advisers and Trump’s chief of staff, were spending the holiday weekend back in Washington.

On Thursday afternoon, Trump boarded Air Force One solo. Reince Priebus, his chief of staff, escorted the President to Joint Base Andrews in his armored limousine but didn’t make the trip to Florida. Priebus said he had “things to go over with him for next week so I jumped in the motorcade,” but wasn’t scheduled to fly south for the weekend.

A White House official said the staffing footprint at Mar-a-Lago would be “very light” because it’s a holiday weekend, suggesting Easter would be a chance for Trump to spend time with his wife and children and so that top staffers could spend time with their own families.

But even amid his restful stay in South Florida, Trump could find himself confronting another provocative move from North Korea. The birthday Saturday of the nation’s founder could prompt the country to conduct its sixth nuclear test, according to experts.

It would be the first test under the Trump administration, and his response will be scrutinized in Pyongyang and Washington. Trump has spoken out aggressively against North Korea this week, saying that his recent meeting with China’s Xi made him realize how complicated the problem was.

Speaking Thursday, Trump said he wasn’t sure if his administration’s decision to drop a “Mother of all Bombs” on an ISIS enclave in Afghanistan was meant as a display of American resolve to North Korea.

“I don’t know if this sends a message,” Trump said at the White House. “It doesn’t make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of.”

Trump said he’d gained important cooperation from Xi during their talks last weekend and in subsequent phone calls.

“I will say this, I think China has really been working very hard and I have really gotten to like and respect, as you know, President Xi. He’s a terrific person,” Trump said. “We spent a lot of time together in Florida and he’s a very special man so we’ll see how it goes.”
Administration officials maintain that Trump will be kept well informed of activity in North Korea by his team, should the need arise, and will continue to be updated through the weekend.

It was standard practice in the Bush and Obama administrations for a senior national security aide (often at the deputy national security adviser level or higher) to always travel with the president, including on vacations.

One former senior administration official said this was key advice that the Bush team offered the Obama team during that transition. Physical proximity to the President during a national security event was seen as critical for decision-making and keeping the president informed.

A senior White House foreign policy aide told reporters Thursday that, broadly, military options were already being assessed with regard to North Korea, and those options would arise during Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to Asia this week.
Pence is due to arrive in Seoul on Sunday.

(h/t CNN)

Trump Advertises Mar-a-Lago’s Chocolate Cake in Interview

Donald Trump informed the Chinese president that he had launched missile strikes on Syria as the pair ate “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you have ever seen”, the US president has claimed.

In an interview with Fox Business, Trump offered his first account of how he had broken the news to Xi Jinping as they dined at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida at the start of a two-day bridge-building summit last Thursday.

“I was sitting at the table. We had finished dinner. We are now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you have ever seen. And President Xi was enjoying it,” Trump said.

“And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded. What do you do? And we made a determination to do it. So the missiles were on the way.

“And I said: ‘Mr President, let me explain something to you … we’ve just launched 59 missiles, heading to Iraq [sic] … heading toward Syria and I want you to know that.’

“I didn’t want him to go home … and then they say: ‘You know the guy you just had dinner with just attacked [Syria].’”

Asked how the leader of China, which alongside Russia has repeatedly blocked UN resolutions targeting the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, had reacted, Trump said: “He paused for 10 seconds and then he asked the interpreter to please say it again – I didn’t think that was a good sign.”

“And he said to me, anybody that uses gases – you could almost say, or anything else – but anybody that was so brutal and uses gases to do that to young children and babies, it’s OK. He was OK with it. He was OK.”

China has sought to portray last week’s summit – which came after months of tension between Trump’s administration and Beijing – as a resounding triumph.

“The meetings, positive and fruitful, mark a new starting point for the world’s most important bilateral relationship,” Xinhua, China’s official news agency, said in a typically-glowing commentary.

All mention of the US strikes on Syria was relegated from the front pages of state-run newspapers in a bid to prevent Trump’s dramatic military intervention overshadowing Xi’s visit.

Bill Bishop, a Washington-based China expert who tracks the country’s political scene on his Sinocism newsletter, said Beijing would not have welcomed Trump’s decision to break the news over dessert.

“The Chinese generally hate those kinds of surprises. The Chinese would have preferred it hadn’t happened while they were in the US. Clearly it overshadowed the summit,” he said.

But Bishop said Beijing had still managed to capitalise on the Mar-a-Lago meeting by spinning Xi as “Trump’s equal” in China’s domestic media. Beijing would also commemorate how the Syria strikes had driven a wedge between Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“The Chinese have been a little bit worried about some kind of grand bargainwhere the US pivots away from Asia and creates some kind of alliance in Russia against China,” he said.

“So anything, frankly, that increases tensions between the US and Russia and anything that perhaps drags America into a Middle Eastern quagmire is actually pretty good for China because the US is distracted.

“It’s an unsolvable problem. If the US gets sucked into another conflict in the Middle East, it is less likely that the US is going to be focused or have the capacity to really pressure China on certain issues.”

China’s leaders had been losing sleep over Trump’s regular bouts of Beijing-bashing and his decision to make Peter Navarro – who has described China as a “despicable, parasitic, brass-knuckled and totally totalitarian power” – the head of his National Trade Council.

But Bishop said Chinese officials had been encouraged by Navarro’s apparent absence from the Mar-a-Lago talks.

Speaking to Fox Business, Trump claimed he had hit it off with the Chinese president. He said: “I really liked him. We had a great chemistry, I think … Maybe he didn’t like me but I think he liked me … we understand each other.”

Trump had less kind words for Assad. “This is an animal,” he said.

(h/t The Guardian)


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