After President Trump decided to handle a national security threat in full view of his dinner guests last weekend, it became evidently clear that the Mar-a-Lago golf course had become more than just a private estate; it was also a makeshift situation room overlooking Palm Beach, Florida.
It began when Trump announced that he would be playing golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had arrived in Washington on Friday and was expected to pitch the idea of increased Japanese investment in U.S. infrastructure. Japan plans to invest using its public pension fund as part of a “wide-range policy package.” Naturally, the U.S. president saw golf as an opportunity to break the ice between the two leaders.
“That’s the one thing about golf — you get to know somebody better on a golf course than you will over lunch,” Trump told Westwood One Sports Radio via a White House press release.
Trump’s invitation to host the Japanese PM at his luxurious and exclusive Mar-a-Lago golf course, and pay for his accommodations, has also been the subject of an ethics debate, though that didn’t stop the world leaders from boarding Air Force One for the trip on Friday. They ate a late dinner at the restaurant on the terrace alongside New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
The following day brought with it new controversy. Following an 18-hole round of golf and various discussions, Trump and Abe retired to the Mar-a-Lago terrace for dinner. Shortly after taking their seats during a busy Saturday night at the restaurant, Trump was presented with his first national security scare.
Instead of leaving the lively setting of ostentatious guests at the restaurant to handle the threat, a North Korean missile launch, Trump, Abe and their associates huddled over a laptop and looked over documents while aides held up phones to help with visibility.
Within a matter of minutes, a small corner of the luxurious Mar-a-Lago terrace had transformed into a mobile situation room.
While Trump’s nonchalant approach to crisis management may have gone unnoticed, guests from the surrounding tables snapped photographs and posted them on their personal Facebook accounts, including retired investor Richard deAgazio. CNN was first to describe the scene.
DeAgazio was also responsible for a picture taken with Trump’s “nuclear football,” better known as the President’s emergency satchel. The nuclear football is a briefcase carried around by a military aide that carry the codes and information needed for the President to authorize a nuclear attack while away from his main command center. The White House typically employs several officers as aide-de-camps for the president and they are generally pictured walking with the leader carrying the aluminum briefcase wrapped in leather.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted that the Mar-a-Lago reports are greatly exaggerated and that “no classified material” was discussed during dinner. According to Spicer, Trump had been briefed in a secure location before and after dinner.
Traditionally, U.S. presidents are taken to secure locations to discuss a response to a potential national security threat or crisis. Following September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush learned about the terrorist attacks while reading a book to children at an elementary school. He was eventually taken away by the secret service.
However, while Trump’s tactics at Mar-a-Lago highlight a disregard for the safety concerns associated with sensitive information, at least one member at his club is not concerned.
“He chooses to be out on the terrace, with the members,” DeAgazio told the Washington Post. “It just shows that he’s a man of the people.”