The State Department has removed a story from one of its websites that critics said looked like an advertisement for President Donald Trump’s privately owned Florida club, Mar-a-Lago.
The story about what the Trump administration calls the “Winter White House” was posted on April 4th and replaced Monday evening by a comment saying that the post had been wrongly perceived.
“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,” the post on the website that replace the article said. The State Department then issued the same statement.
The story, originally posted on the State Department’s ShareAmerica website, was also posted on the websites of U.S. embassies abroad. The version on the website of the U.S. Embassy in the UK wrote that Mar-A-Lago has “become well known as the President frequently travels there to work or host foreign leaders.” It also noted that “Trump is not the first president to have access to Mar-a-Lago as a Florida retreat, but he is the first one to use it.”
It also touted foreign leaders that have already met with Trump on the club’s grounds – including China’s President Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The State Department reached out to the embassies that posted the article to let them know that they were taking down the ShareAmerica story. The story them came down from the embassies’ websites. A “Page not found” alert now occupies the U.S. UK embassy webpage where the Winter White House article once lived.
But before being removed, it provoked accusations that a Trump property was being advertised at taxpayers’ expense.
Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, called the story “kleptocratic” on twitter and singled out the State Department for deciding it was appropriate to post.
A similar critique came from American Bridge, a Democratic PAC.
“Aggressively begging foreign countries to funnel money straight into Trump’s pocket is a clear violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments clause, but that’s precisely what the State Department is doing by openly promoting one of the Trumps’ private businesses. It’s a gross abuse of taxpayer resources and flagrant violation of the law from an Administration that thinks rules don’t apply to them,” wrote Shripal Shah, Vice President of American Bridge, in a statement.
State Department officials say the White House did not ask that the article be posted.
“The White House was not aware of this content,” a State Department official explained. The State Department’s Bureau of Internal Information Programs creates this content for ShareAmerica, where the story was posted, and the site primarily focuses on American life and culture in a non-political stories.
Although the post was taken down, many argue that Mar-a-Lago continues to see the benefits, especially financially, of the Trump presidency. The club’s initiation fee has raised from $100,000 to $200,000 after Trump was elected and many of the members get to see Mr. Trump on his frequent visits there.
So far, Mr. Trump has spent half his weekends at the club since becoming president.