President Trump’s first face-to-face meeting today with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, will take place at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s family-owned resort in Florida. The laid-back setting is meant to give the two world leaders a chance to build a rapport, but government ethics experts question whether that’s appropriate.
Past presidents have hosted key leaders at government-owned properties like Camp David, but Mr. Trump is giving a personal touch for Xi.
The U.S.-China relationship has been under pressure over trade, North Korea and China’s expansion in the South China Sea.
As a candidate, Mr. Trump repeatedly blasted China, accusing Beijing of unfair trade practices that he equated to “rape” and “theft,” reports CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan.
“We give state dinners to the heads of China. I said, ‘Why are you doing state dinners for them?’ They’re ripping us left and right,” Mr. Trump said.
Today the president tries to reboot the relationship by welcoming China’s president and his wife to Mar-a-Lago.
“It’s a venue that connotes the U.S. president is interested in building a personal relationship with Xi Jinping,” said Evan Medeiros, former National Security Commission China director in the Obama administration.
Between trade disputes and the threat of North Korea, the two leaders have plenty to discuss. But exactly where those conversations take place became a concern to Congress after Mr. Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared to openly discuss North Korea’s missile test over dinner in February.
The government accountability office has now agreed to probe whether Mar-a-Lago has a secure space for classified communications, the type of Secret Service screening measures used on resort guests, and how the government ensures travel-related expenses are fair and reasonable.
“I’m meeting with the president of China on Thursday and Friday in Palm Beach, Florida, and I think we’re going to have a very interesting talk,” Mr. Trump said.
Also in question is whether the Trump family financially benefits from such a high-profile visit.
“The visit and the visit of the foreign leader attracts large amount of publicity, not just domestically but internationally,” government ethics specialist Kathleen Clark said.
Mr. Trump gave up the position of club president before inauguration. His son, Donald Trump Jr., now holds that title, according to a Florida alcohol license obtained by CBS News.
“When President Trump arranges to meet a foreign leader at one of his branded properties like Mar-a-Lago, what he is doing is he is actually using government office for private gain,” Clark said.
The White House has not responded to inquiries about whether or not the Chinese delegation will pay for any services while visiting Mar-a-Lago.