Mar-A-Lago: It's Not A Bribe, It's Membership Dues
Being president is HARD. It's a constant tension between serving the American people and selling your saggy orange ass to every Ivan, Chang, and Harry that bellies up to the bar waving a couple crumpled dollar bills. But Donald Trump is up to the challenge. He only gets to keep a little of the $3.4 million each of his 22 visits to Mar-a-Lago (so far) cost the American taxpayer, so he has to supplement that golf cart money with people willing to fork over thousands of dollars to be in his spray-tanned presence. It's kind of like selling access to the Lincoln Bedroom, but for the Loehmann's crowd.
The New York Times reports:
The president has personally instructed members to pack fund-raisers beyond the ticket limit at Mar-a-Lago, according to one event organizer who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private conversations with Mr. Trump.
The fund-raisers, which occur most weekends during the height of the winter season — usually held in hopes that the president or his family members may drop in — are staged in a large ballroom adjacent to the main patio where Mr. Trump eats his dinner.
Mr. Trump encouraged one organizer to pack the ballroom for a February event beyond the 700-person limit, advising that person to tell his staff at Mar-a-Lago that he said he would allow the increase. That organizer was told that the Mar-a-Lago security team had no final say over crowd numbers, but the event still grew to around 730 guests.
Trump's insistence on monetizing the presidential brand presents a unique security challenge for the Secret Service. Other presidents would vacation at Camp David or their own personal residences, which could be easily locked down. Even when the Obamas went to Hawaii, the family rented a house with a perimeter that could be secured. But Donald Trump needs to show his face in the dining room at Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster to keep those membership dollars rolling in. And after the Very Fine Nazis debacle, all the normal charities noped out, so he needed to fill those ballrooms with howler monkeys in their glorious finery.
Trump has nominated at least eight paying club members for diplomatic jobs and has reportedly outsourced large swathes of the Veteran's Administration to the foursome on the next tee at Mar-a-Lago. The domestic corruption is horrifying, but the national security implications may be even worse. Because the president's private clubs are a soft target for every spy and scammer on the planet. And the real problem isn't some low-rent massage parlor owner selling Mar-a-Lago party tickets to Chinese executives hot to get their photographs taken with members of the Trump family; it's actual spies who just pay the $200,000 initiation fee and start hanging around. The fact that club staff eventually managed to stop a Chinese national from gaining full access to the property when she showed up Saturday with four cellphones, two passports, a laptop, and a malware-infected thumb drive is really not comforting. The woman was practically wearing a sandwich board that said I AM A SPY, and she still made it through three layers of security.
So please enjoy this hilarious Washington Post story about Cindy Yang's influence-peddling partner Dr. Charles, who is neither a doctor, nor named Charles.
But "Dr. Charles" appears to be neither a doctor nor a Charles. And his organization, with a self-styled imprimatur of the United Nations, similarly appears to be a commercial influence-peddling operation looking for a veneer of respectability.
"Dr. Charles," whose real name is Li Weitian, according to bank records, has become a central figure in the Chinese effort to get close to Trump and influential Republicans.
He goes to the president's Florida country club so regularly that Yujing Zhang — the Chinese woman arrested at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday — told Secret Service agents that she was there to meet "her Chinese friend Charles."
And then quit laughing, because it's your government's national security that's being compromised so Donald Trump can make a quick buck.
As ProPublica reported in 2017, a hacker wouldn't even need entry to Mar-a-Lago to get into the club's barely defended WiFi network. And while Trump has mostly stopped discussing classified material on the lanai, a real spy with access to the property could install bugs or malware all over the place. Or just drop a corrupted thumb drive on the ground and take the chance that some idiot picks it up and plugs it in. As if there's any doubt that Boy Wonder Jared would stick it in his butt, and his nose, and finally his laptop.
So we're real glad and all that there's an ongoing counterintelligence probe into Chinese influence peddling at Mar-a-Lago. It's great that the House Oversight Committee is on the case. And we certainly hope that FBI Director Wray heeds the advice of Democratic senators and tries to improve security measures at the president's private clubs. But as long as Donald Trump prioritizes getting paid over the national security interests of the United States, we're waging a rearguard action.
Because sometimes the real pee tape is the friends you meet along the way. The friends who pay to hang out at the omelet bar with you at your private club. The friends who sit next to you during the Super Bowl party and talk about their great plans to privatize veterans' healthcare. Those nice people who pay $1,000 to come to a party, where they make small talk about Taiwan being a part of China for all eternity. Those swashbuckling Russians who drop tens of millions on Trump condos and make chitchat about their poor oppressed countrymen stranded in Ukraine. And if the president happens to take the advice of those nice people who give him all that money, well, it's probably a coincidence, right?
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.