As previously discussed, there are significant ethics challenges surrounding President Trump’s use of his Mar-a-Lago estate while in office. Related to this, but having far more serious repercussions, are the national security implications. Fact – nations all spy. Fact – our adversaries and enemies go to great lengths to spy on us and disrupt our institutions. Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea engage in ongoing hostile activity against us including intelligence gathering, disrupting our elections, etc. Fact – Mar-a-Lago is an irresistible target for spies, and we do nothing about it.
While Camp David provides a far more convenient, secure, and effective option for Presidents to escape the confines of the White House, President Trump chooses to travel to Mar-a-Lago, despite the incredible time and expense his travel costs the taxpayers. His travel costs Palm Beach County law enforcement millions of dollars and inconveniences citizens and businesses due to forced closures. Why would he do this and do it at an incredible frequency of vacations far greater than any other President?
Trump pockets millions of dollars captured from Secret Service, administration staff, and others required to accompany him when he travels. The U.S. Government pays for hotel rooms, food, and other costs at his estate. This is all pure profit for the Trump family. Trump has also considerably raised the price of membership at his club, exploiting his status as President to make even more money. Trump routinely discusses official business in common areas at the club with little concern as to who may be present and listening. In fact, he often makes a point of discussing official business with club members. In effect, he is selling access to him at Mar-a-Lago to anyone willing to pay. This creates not only financial conflicts, but also campaign violations. He is using official trips arguably to conduct partisan political activity, appealing directly to supporters in this fashion.
Hundreds of individuals use the club on a given day, as is their right of membership. The Secret Service has no control over club patronage or visitation. This creates a huge security nightmare for the Secret Service and counter-intelligence officials. Any member or visitor could plant listening devices, capture conversations, intercept communications, or commit other acts of espionage directly counter to our national security interests. Anyone, even without any equipment whatsoever, can get near enough to the President and his staff to hear and capture their conversations. President Trump and his advisors make things even easier for those with nefarious intent. Trump insists on using his private cell phone to conduct official business in flagrant violation of security protocol. His conversations are entirely unprotected and easy pickings. This is regrettably the case even for classified and sensitive matters. He has inexplicable complete disdain for his paramount responsibility to maintain national security.
Further compounding the crisis, his close advisors including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump also conduct official business on personal, unclassified electronic devices or applications. Their collective atrocious disregard for national security begs the question as to why they refuse to use protected communications, especially for classified information. The most logical answer, backed up by their history and actions, is their not so veiled intent to conceal the existence and content of their discussions and activities from not just Congress and the American people, but even from their own intelligence officials and other administration agencies. People assumed much of what was in the emails Hillary Clinton lost or deleted to be negative. Imagine what is in these communications that they so desperately want to conceal!?
Unfortunately, Russia and China most likely know far more about these conversations than do our own officials. A Chinese national was just caught trying to infiltrate Mar-a-Lago. She said she was just trying to take a swim and was attending an event there. There was no such event that day and she flew halfway around the world to get there, possessing 4 cell phones, multiple hard drives, various malware, etc., but no swimsuit. This was very clearly a botched Chinese attempt to probe security and counter-intelligence efforts in place. This was most likely not the first such attempt and certainly will not be the last, especially with Trump inviting Chinese Premiere Xi to Mar-a-Lago. Chinese intelligence has numerous opportunities to intercept Trump Administration business simply by listening to conversations conducted all over the club’s public areas. Trump could not make it any easier for them or other adversaries.
Trump conducts business with staff as well as foreign dignitaries while eating in the main dining room, surrounded by random club members eating at other tables, many easily able to overhear the discussions. There was an infamous incident where Japanese Prime Minister Abe was dining with Trump in the middle of a national security crisis. They watched video, discussed highly classified matters, and handled extremely sensitive materials all at the table. In plain view and easy hearing of anyone, and we know foreign intelligence was certainly listening. Various club members in the vicinity heard everything, many taking video. This unforgivable transgression was only part of an ongoing series of gross violations of national security placing our country at great risk.
Putting aside the ethics and campaign issues, if Trump insists on continuing the unprecedented frequency of vacations to Mar-a-Lago and conducting official business, he must acquiesce to the security apparatus and make the necessary adjustments to protect intelligence, etc. By refusing to do so, he serves to ratify the conclusion that he does not care about national security and that it is more important to him to make money and engage in electoral politics. The nation should not tolerate this. Our future and safety depend on it.