What qualifications would one need to earn the post of ambassador to the Dominican Republic, with a luxurious post in the Caribbean? A connection to the region? Diplomatic experience? Maybe in the past, before President Trump’s kakistocracy took over. Now, all it takes is to be a member of a Trump resort.
That’s what Robin Bernstein’s qualifications boiled down to. He was a founding member of Trump’s “Winter White House,” Mar-a-Lago. Now he’s enjoying the Caribbeans on the government’s dime. And he’s not the only one. USA Today has found that Trump assigned at least five club members to administrative roles. Fellow Mar-a-Lago founding member Callista Gingrich is the new ambassador to the Vatican, and Adolfo Marzol, a member of the Trump National Golf Club in the DC beltway, is now a senior adviser at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Cronyism isn’t new. When it comes to plush jobs, presidents have appointed campaign donors and close allies. However, as USA Today reports, “never in modern history has a president awarded government posts to people who pay money to his own companies.”
“You can appoint your personal valet (to an ambassadorship) if you like,” said Jan Baran, a former State Department official who is a top GOP ethics lawyer at Wiley Rein.
Marzol, the senior advisor to Housing Secretary Ben Carson, refused to comment, but department Spokesperson Jerry Brown claimed that Marzol joined the club before Trump bought it. “The department is not concerned about health clubs or golfing clubs people have belonged to for 20 years,” he said. “We consider that to be their private business.”
But Fred Wertheimer, the president of the watchdog group Democracy 21, disagrees. ““It certainly appears that it does not hurt to be a dues-paying member of the president’s golf clubs to end up with a position in this administration.” Wertheimer has also been critical of Trump’s decision not to sever ties with his brand. “We don’t normally have presidents who are continuing to own their business enterprises, and that’s bound to pose potential conflicts,” he said.
But there are no rules in place to stop this behavior, as Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer during George W. Bush’s administration, points out. Painter sits on the board of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington—a group suing Trump for continuing his ownership of his real estate business. “I would not, in the White House, have liked a situation where a subordinate was buying a car from a superior,” Painter said.
It’s also hard to tell just how many club members were appointed to White House roles, since the memberships are not made public. As USA TODAY reports, they:
“…identified members using news accounts and by reviewing a public website golfers use to track their handicaps. An investigation by USA TODAY found that dozens of lobbyists and federal contractors are paying members of the clubs Trump has visited the most often, a status that could put them in close contact with the president in exchange for payments that enrich him personally.”
This is how they discovered Berry Nigro, now second in command of the Justice Department’s antitrust department, is a member of Trump’s club near the nation’s capital. He denies that Trump even knew who he was.
And Brain Burns, another Mar-a-Lago member, was slated for an ambassadorship in Ireland, but withdrew for health reasons. And yet another Mar-a-Lago member, Patrick Park, stated that they were promised ambassador roles. Park told The Palm Beach Post that Trump wrote him a handwritten letter offering a diplomatic post in Austria, the setting of Park’s favorite movie, The Sound of Music. “I know every single word and song by heart,” he told the Post. “I’ve always wanted to live in the Von Trapp house.” He’s still waiting for that nomination.
Trump’s corruption is one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington. Hopefully, voters will start electing officials that can remove him from office—that’s if the country can make it to 2018.
Read the entire report here.