State Department pulls Mar-a-Lago blog post under pressure from Dems, ethics watchdogs

Will Racke, DCNF

The State Department removed Monday a blog post about the Mar-a-Lago resort in response to allegations the government was using an official website to promote President Donald Trump’s privately owned club.

The post, published by State’s Share America project, touted the history of Mar-a-Lago and described it as “Trump’s Florida estate” where the president has hosted visiting foreign dignitaries.

“By visiting this ‘winter White House,’ Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer,” the post said.

Share America took down the post Monday evening, replacing the 400-word article with a brief statement: “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 original article was first published on April 4, but it came to the attention of ethics watchdogs Monday, when reporters discovered it on the website of the U.S. embassy to the United Kingdom. It recounted the story of Mar-a-Lago’s original builder, heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who left the property to the government after her death in 1973 on the condition it be used as a winter retreat for the president.

The post didn’t mention that Mar-a-Lago is part of Trump’s vast real estate empire or that it doubled its membership fee after the election, Fox News reported. Critics say it was an attempt by the State Department to market the resort through official U.S. government media.

Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, tweeted Monday that it was the “use of public office for private gain.” Painter has sued Trump for alleged violations of the “emoluments clause” of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits government officials from accepting foreign gifts or payments without the consent of Congress.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, a persistent Trump critic on ethics issues, asked why taxpayer money is going toward “promoting” Trump’s club.

Share America’s website describes the organization as “the U.S. Department of State’s platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”

The White House has declined to say whether it had any involvement in the original posting or the decision to remove it, Fox News reported.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Monday during an afternoon briefing that he wasn’t aware of the blog post.

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