Looks like it's not so hard to get into Mar-a-Lago after all.
In the movies, spies typically need all kinds of complicated schemes and high-tech gadgets to gain access to the leader of a powerful country.
But in Trump's America, a spy just needs to fork $500 over to Mar-a-Lago and they can be taking selfies with the leader of the free world all evening.
On Thursday, the Palm Beach Post exposed Mar-a-Lago, a regular long weekend destination of Trump, as "a porous party destination accessible to anyone with the right contacts or a few hundred dollars."
The investigation followed the revelation that a former massage parlor owner linked to a prostitution bust posted photos of herself carousing with Trump at a recent Super Bowl watch party. The woman, Li "Cindy" Yang, had also set up a business aimed at Chinese clients selling access to Trump and high-level Republican officials.
In light of the reports, Congress asked the FBI to open both a criminal investigation into Yang related to potential human trafficking and sex slavery, as well as a counterintelligence inquiry. Congressional leaders are concerned that Yang could be providing opportunities to foreign agents "to acquire potential material for blackmail or other even more nefarious purposes," whether she intended to or not.
But the Palm Beach Post reveals that access to Trump is even easier than going through someone like Yang. For the Super Bowl party Yang attended with Trump, there were glossy advertisements telling anyone how to purchase tickets available at the front counter of Mar-a-Lago days ahead of the game. The Post reports that tickets to events open to the public cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000. Events are also published in a local newspaper.
Whereas anyone with means can party with Trump, the White House keeps the list of those people a closely guarded secret. The Secret Service does not keep a record of who attends soirees with Trump or which high-level government officials accompany him to the luxury resort he owns and profits from. The general public does not know who Trump is soliciting advice from, which he often does while visiting his club.
The Post perused social media accounts that tagged Mar-a-Lago to uncover what kinds of characters are able to gain access to Trump's exclusive club. The list includes at least a few individuals who caught the eye of special counsel Robert Mueller for ties to Russia.
In April 2018, Andy Wigmore and Aaron Banks posted selfies from the resort. The two are part of a group from Britain that describes themselves as the "Bad Boys of Brexit" for their role in bankrolling the campaign for Brexit. But in doing so, they cultivated close ties to Russian operatives, while at the same time cozying up to the 2016 Trump campaign.
Banks is currently under investigation by British authorities and is wrapped up in the Mueller investigation, according to the Washington Post. Some on Congress, after looking at communications from Banks, wonder if he served as a conduit between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
The porous access to Mar-a-Lago troubles not only congressional leaders but government watchdog groups.
"There should be more transparency," John Wunderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, told the Palm Beach Post in September 2018. "The fact is he's having all these meetings at a private resort where people have paid six figures to join ... people with business interests and foreign governments all have access to Mar-a-Lago and Trump's hotel in D.C."
Access to Trump goes to those with money, even if the public never knows who they are or what their motivations may be.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.