The Department of State said Tuesday that the White House was not responsible for a blog post about the Mar-a-Lago resort that critics say inappropriately promoted President Donald Trump’s private club.
The original April 4 post was a brief history of the Mar-a-Lago club and recounted how the builder, heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, bequeathed the property to the government in 1973 on the condition it be used as a winter retreat for the president. It also described how Trump purchased and refurbished the resort, eventually opening the estate to “dues-paying members of the public in 1995 as the Mar-a-Lago Club.”
Critics accused the State Department of using official channels to promote Trump’s private business.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden asked why taxpayer money was going toward “promoting the President’s private country club,” and a Bloomberg View columnist said the incident belongs in Trump’s “impeachment file.”
Acting department spokesman Mark Toner said the article, which was posted to State’s Share America blog and republished on U.S. Embassy websites, was conceived and written inside the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP).
Nobody at the White House ordered the Mar-a-Lago post, Toner said.
“This article was researched and written by staff members of the IIP Bureau, and that is what they do,” he told reporters. “As I said, they are creating content to go out to send out to missions around the world.”
Toner noted that IIP content created for Share America is not normally reviewed outside the bureau. Going forward, he said, State will “consider whether any additional review of content is needed or appropriate.”
The Mar-a-Lago article came to the attention of ethics watchdogs Monday after reporters discovered it on the website of the U.S. embassy to the U.K. Critics immediately cried foul, claiming the article was an example of using public resources to promote the president’s private business interests.
Liberal government watchdog Common Cause filed a complaint Tuesday with the State Department and the federal Office of Government Ethics. The group called the Mar-a-Lago post a “misuse and abuse of taxpayer dollars” and asked State to open an internal investigation into the incident.
In response to increasing pressure, Share America took down the post Monday evening and replaced the 400-word article with a brief statement: “The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders. We regret any misperception and have removed the post.” (RELATED: State Department Pulls Mar-a-Lago Blog Post Under Pressure From Dems, Ethics Watchdogs)
Toner dismissed the controversy as the result of distortions about the purpose of the article, which was “not intended to endorse or promote any private enterprise.”
“There was no, obviously, malice of forethought with respect to this article,” Toner said to reporters Tuesday. “It was simply intended to inform foreign audiences about places they’ve been hearing about in the news pertinent to U.S. foreign policy and the president’s activities.”
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