USA Today has done some pretty pernickety research into who frequents Trump’s golf clubs and whether Trump is himself there at the same time. Trump owns multiple golf clubs, and their membership lists are private. However, by using access to social media and old-school time-consuming detective work, USA Today have found out that (as The Independent reports):
…member rolls for clubs that Mr Trump has visited frequently as president — in particular the ones in Virginia, Florida, and New Jersey — include at least 71 executives or lobbyists with federal contracts or interests. Of those, two-thirds of them have visited a club on a day the President was also there, according to scores posted online….
The review shows the potential for unprecedented access to a sitting US president for people paying for a service that enriches that President personally. Few Americans can afford the members fees that these individuals pay, which in turn gets them the potential for close and confidential access to Mr Trump.
Interviews with members and individuals aware of the environment in the golf clubs while Mr Trump is around indicate that the President is very approachable, and frequently has impromptu conversations with individuals in the clubs.
Trump club members include top defence contractor executives, lobbyists representing the South Korean government, a lawyer helping Saudi Arabia in its fight against claims related to the September 11 attacks, and the leader of a group that lobbied successfully to convince the Trump administration not to ban an insecticide that scientists have linked to health risks.
Of course, they could all be innocent of any nefarious shoulder-rubbing, but it seems unlikely. As USA Today themselves say:
Members of Trump’s clubs pay initiation fees that can exceed $100,000, plus thousands more in annual dues to his companies, held in a trust for his benefit.
The arrangement is legal, and members said they did not use the clubs to discuss government business. Nonetheless, ethics experts questioned whether it’s appropriate for a sitting president to collect money from lobbyists and others who spend their days trying to shape federal policy or win government business.
“I think we’re all in new territory,” said Walter Shaub, who recently resigned as director of the Office of Government Ethics after repeated clashes with the White House. “We never thought we’d see anyone push the outer limits in this way.”
Citing privacy and national security, the White House has moved to keep secret the president’s interactions. Unlike the Obama administration, the Trump White House does not disclose the president’s golf partners, or whether he played. The Trump team also ended an Obama administration practice of releasing White House visitor logs. In July, a federal court ordered the government to release visitor records from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., to a watchdog group. The deadline is Friday.
Trump’s U.S. golf clubs are among the most lucrative outposts in his empire, bringing in about $600 million in 2015 and 2016, according to his financial disclosure reports. It is unknown how much of that is profit because, unlike other recent presidents, Trump has not released his tax returns.
Whenever I consider Trump and his antics, it’s as if anything could happen or be the case. I know he’ll be one of many, if not all, politicians who are susceptible to lobbying and financial pressures. But with his clear conflict of interests, he is so very prone to such pressures, and more so than any other previous POTUS.