Nowhere are the lines more blurred between U.S. President Donald Trump and businessman Donald Trump than at Mar-a-Lago.
On the surface, it all seems legit. Mr. Trump has designated his sprawling members-only resort in Palm Beach, Fla., the winter White House. Last weekend, he welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in what aides say will be the first of many gatherings there with world leaders and other dignitaries.
They played golf at a nearby Trump-owned golf course, and dined and mingled with guests. Mr. Abe and his entourage stayed and played for free, ensuring the Trump Organization did not profit. Accepting payment, after all, would have been a blatant violation of an obscure clause in the U.S. Constitution that bars elected officials from taking payments from foreign governments.
Mar-a-Lago seems like the perfect venue to hold presidential events. The estate's former owner, the late breakfast-cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, willed her property to the U.S. government in 1973 in the hope that it would become a presidential retreat. The government had other ideas, and Mr. Trump acquired the property in the 1980s.
There is another, more sinister, spin on Mr. Trump's rollout of the winter White House. Using the resort as a backdrop for presidential business is a free product placement for his exclusive club, where the price of membership was recently doubled to $200,000 (U.S.). It also looks suspiciously like a brazen cash-for-access scheme, where wealthy members pay for the privilege of mingling with Mr. Trump, his friends and world leaders. The club's website bills Mar-a-Lago as the "epicenter" of the Palm Beach social scene, offering "an elite lifestyle reserved for a select few."
It's not just about appearances. The Trump Organization is directly profiting from the Trump presidency.
Ignoring the advice of ethics experts and decades of presidential precedent, Mr. Trump refused to sell his hotels, golf clubs, real estate and licensing deals when he took office. Instead, he put his assets in a "trust" run by his two eldest sons, Donald Jr., 39, and Eric, 33, plus his long-time chief financial officer.
The President remains the sole beneficial owner of the trust.
He's been in the White House nearly a month, but it's as if he never left Trump Tower in New York. Mr. Trump is reluctant to abandon his dual persona – businessman and President. He's behaving like a man who never wanted to be President, and now figures he might as well get the most out of his time in office.
Mr. Trump attacked Nordstrom on Twitter after the department-store chain dropped his daughter Ivanka's clothing and jewellery line. A day later, a top communications aide, Kellyanne Conway, stands in the White House briefing room, with the presidential seal over her shoulder, and urges Fox News viewers to "go buy Ivanka's stuff." Mr. Trump has ignored calls from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics to discipline Ms. Conway.
Leveraging the White House for personal gain also extends to Mr. Trump's wife, Melania, who sees her first lady gig as a money-making opportunity. Ms. Trump is suing Britain's Daily Mail over a story it published last year that contained a baseless claim that the former model once worked as an escort. In her recent statement of claim in New York State court, she says the now-retracted story cost her "brand" significant value and deprived her of a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to make millions of dollars as "one of the most photographed women in the world."
Meanwhile, back in New York, Mr. Trump's sons are busily monetizing their father's name by expanding the reach of branded properties in the United States and internationally, including the newly opened Trump International Hotel & Tower in Vancouver.
Far from avoiding potential conflicts of interest, Mr. Trump and his family are wallowing in them. The Vancouver Sun reported that at least one condo in the new Vancouver property was bought by a company with links to a Chinese state-owned enterprise – one of numerous potential constitutional violations proliferating throughout the Trump empire.
Mr. Trump could use Camp David, the secluded presidential retreat in Maryland's picturesque Catoctin Mountains, instead of forcing the U.S. Secret Service to staff up Mar-a-Lago. Camp David costs taxpayers $10-million (U.S.) per year to maintain and staff, whether it's used or not.
He could stop using his businesses in product placements. And he could avoid letting the White House become a studio for the home shopping network.
But that's not Donald Trump.