80s hits and nuclear secrets: Security concerns plague Trump’s Mar-a-Lago | donald trump

At some point on an average evening at Mar-a-Lago, the lights go down and the volume turns up, as the owner and former President of the United States turns into a DJ for the night.

A member of the private Mar-a-Lago club says that after a period of withdrawal following his election defeat, Donald Trump has taken on the role of social playmaker in recent months, deciding to bring a disco vibe to the resort of Palm Beach after dark.

“Around 9:30 every night, he’s sitting at his table, whether it’s on the patio or inside, and they bring in a laptop and he starts picking out songs, and he starts DJing for the night, but it’s kind of funny because he picks like the same 10 songs every night,” the club member said.

Trump’s playlist is from a time when he was a regular clubber in New York. The signature song is that of the Village People’s YMCA, alongside The Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston and a few numbers by Elton John.

A bar and a room inside the Mar-a-Lago estate. Photography: Zuma Press Inc/Alamy

“Sometimes he dances to it,” the club member said. “He will be at his table and he will dance seated.”

Towards the end of the evening, Trump will play an anthem, How Great Thou Art, which topped the charts when Elvis Presley sang it. It was a favorite of Trump’s father, Fred, a sentimental way to end a Mar-a-Lago night.

What would have otherwise seemed like nothing more than a typically bizarre twist to a post-presidential career, seems more meaningful now that you know the whole time the lights were dim, the music was playing, the guests were tipsy. and the host was otherwise engaged, thousands of government documents, many of which were highly sensitive and at least one of which contained nuclear secrets, were illegally kept in nearby rooms and closets. And it was all taking place in a location described by former intelligence officials as a prime target for foreign spies.

“Without a doubt, the former president and those around him will be very important targets for any foreign intelligence service. They will ask themselves: how to enter this circle? said Douglas London, a 34-year veteran of the CIA’s underground service and author of The Recruiter: Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence.

London added: “He brought in some really dodgy people with various skeletons in their closets, financial, personal or political, who have vulnerabilities that a foreign intelligence service could exploit.”

It’s a storyline that, under other circumstances, could make for a thunderous comedy series, featuring spies around the world stumbling in the dark as they race to seize the seam of secrets from the world. state, as the YMCA resonates around the world. darkened hallways.

The setting is suitably flamboyant. When it was built in the 1920s for a grain heiress, Marjorie Merriweather Message, the style of the 58-room palace has been described as Hispano-Moorish-Portuguese-Venetian. There are gargoyles that seem to have been borrowed from medieval Britain. The original decor was chosen by a Viennese theater designer.

Mar-a-Lago Grand Ballroom.
Mar-a-Lago Grand Ballroom. Photography: Zuma Press, Inc./Alamy

When Trump bought it for $10m (£8.75m) in 1985, it had 58 bedrooms, an attached golf course and three bomb shelters. He said at the time that he viewed the purchase as a “statement” rather than somewhere he could imagine living, but Florida’s high-end lifestyle grew on him and the place has become his favorite home.

In the 1990s, after a series of bankruptcies, he attempted to extract desperately needed money from the property by trying to divide it into parcels, keep the main house and sell the rest, but was blocked by the local town planning council. .

The board also tried to veto his plan B, turning the estate into a private club, but he managed to outsmart his opponents on the panel by assiduously cultivating individual members and publicly and embarrassingly pointing out that nearly all other Palm Beach clubs have done so. not admit Jews or blacks.

There were few to no African Americans in the area who could afford the $100,000 (£87,454) initiation fee, which doubled in 2017, but plenty of wealthy Jews, who had earned their money in real estate and clothing. They became the bulk of the membership, with the majority of them being Democrats.

When Trump took over as President from Obama and Mar-a-Lago became the “Winter White House”, the mood began to change. Trump didn’t have time for the official presidential retreat at Camp David, which he considered too rustic. Also, the Trump Organization did not make any money from his time there. Mar-a-Lago was another matter.

The president made no distinction between his personal life, business and public service, and Trump’s presidency has become one of the club’s main attractions. It was another label under the Trump brand. Paying guests were able to witness real-life scenes like Trump huddled with then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his aides to craft a joint response to a North Korean missile test.

In April 2017, Trump spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping about the missile strikes he had authorized in Syria as leaders sat in the Mar-a-Lago dining hall eating what the former president described it as “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake”. that you have never seen”.

After Trump’s defeat in 2020, he decamped to his retirement in Florida, taking with him boxes full of secret documents and a new clientele. The crowd that hung around the Trump International Hotel in Washington followed him to Mar-a-Lago.

The pool at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.
The style of the property has been described as Spanish-Moorish-Portuguese-Venetian. Photography: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy

“The club used to be serious money, serious players in business. Some really great players over the years have been members,” one longtime member said with some regret.

“The new members of the club are a bit Maga,” said the veteran member. “It’s very eclectic, lots of foreigners, people who have made money with cryptocurrency, Oklahoma, money fracking. It’s more like the menagerie at the Trump hotel in Washington .

Asked specifically about foreigners, this member said, “There are a lot of different people there that they didn’t really have before. You will have Chinese. You may have a few more Arabs.

Even during the Trump presidency, there were significant flaws in Mar-a-Lago’s security. During the 2018 Thanksgiving holiday, a teenager named Mike Lindbloom escaped guards and entered the club through a tunnel from the beach.

Two Chinese women were caught in the act of trespassing. One of them, Yujing Zhang, had no less than four cell phones, an external hard drive, as well as five SIM cards and a “signal detector” gadget to locate hidden microphones or cameras. She was kicked out with no clarity on what she was doing there and why she was in possession of such an array of electronic devices.

In the post-presidency, there are far fewer checks.

“Usually once a president becomes a former president there’s a reduction in Secret Service resources, but that’s really something that doesn’t lend itself to the Mar-a-Lago environment because of the threats. obvious that are there,” Frank said. Figliuzzi, a former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence.

Each year, the club hires 80 to 90 foreign workers. They’re at least vetted, but that’s no guarantee against an insider threat, Figliuzzi said.

“The fact that four years ago the Secret Service controlled the guy serving Trump Diet Coke 12 times a day, doesn’t mean that guy is invulnerable to $200,000. [£174,936] payment from a foreign intelligence agency,” he said.

The problem of club members and their guests is much more important.

“Who are these members? Who controls them? asked Figliuzzi. “If you have the money and you spend it, it looks like you are a member. And now here come your family members and guests, and their cousins ​​and in-laws. And is it really possible that the Secret Service is even starting to think they could control the guest side of the house? »

All of this helps explain why a woman of Russian-speaking Ukrainian descent called Inna Yashchyshyn was able to mingle with club members and Trump himself in the spring and summer of 2021, posing as Anna de Rothschild, a Monegasque descendant. of the banking family.

It’s unclear whether Yashchyshyn and the two Chinese intruders were simply opportunists or connected to something more sinister. But the same could be said for much of the Mar-a-Lago crowd, especially newcomers. But perhaps the biggest question mark hangs over the station’s hurt and vengeful owner and DJ. No one knows what plans he had for his stolen treasure of state secrets.

“Whatever he chose was because he intended to do something with it,” London said. “The question mark is: what were his intentions? But none of this will be a happy story. None of this will end well, in terms of impact on national security.

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