State Department websites promote Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, sparking ethics concerns

Workers lay out the red carpet at Mar-a Lago Club in Palm Beach Fla. on Dec. 30 2016

Mar-a-Lago, located in West Palm Beach, has become a point of contention for President Trump's critics who see his frequent use of what he has dubbed the "winter White House" as a symbol of his dismissive attitude toward potential conflicts of interest.

The website ShareAmerica, the State Department's "platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics", and the U.S. embassy in the United Kingdom posted articles earlier this month advertising Mar-a-Lago as Trump's winter retreat at which he conducts official business as president, "belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago's original owner and designer".

A State Department spokesman said he was not aware of the webpage when asked about it.

Jordan Libowitz of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said the post "reads nearly like an ad for Mar-a-Lago".

"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", Shripal Shah, vice president of American Bridge, a Democratic firm, told CNN.

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President Donald Trump talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.

"Now we are learning that the State Department promoted the property and still is promoting the property on websites describing it as, 'the winter White House, and a prominent place where President Trump hosts foreign leaders, ' " Tapper said. Eisen argued that the posts broke federal regulations because the State Department and embassies "are using official channels to promote a private business, which happens to be that of their ultimate superior, the president". Ethics experts questioned whether the moves would be enough to prevent conflicts of interest as president.

"This is outrageous, more exploitation of public office for Trump's personal gain", Eisen said.

Post willed the estate to the US government in 1973, hoping it would be used as a presidential retreat, according to the same blog post. Following the election, the resort's membership initiation fee doubled to $200,000. He turned the home into a lavish country club as well as a residence for himself. Trump traveled to Mar-a-Lago seven out of the first 12 full weekends after his inauguration, and mingled with members on numerous occasions. In 1973, Post donated the property to the government with the hopes it would be used as the "winter White House" for future presidents.

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