By Meg Warner
An Oceanfront Situation Room?
PALM BEACH, Fla — The United States House’s top investigative committee wants an explanation for reports that President Donald Trump discussed classified information over the weekend as he dined on the open-air patio of his Florida resort, surrounded by wealthy club members also enjoying the terrace.
The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), sent a letter to the White House Tuesday asking for details about Trump’s Saturday night dinner meeting at Mar-a-Lago with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, which had been photographed by club patrons who witnessed it unfold.
The patio meal occurred around the same time that North Korea fired a ballistic missile, prompting some guests to speculate that the talk at Trump’s table was about the launch.
“While the President is always on duty, and cannot dictate the timing of when he needs to receive sensitive information about urgent matters, we hope the White House will cooperate in providing the Committee with additional information,” Chaffetz said in his letter to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
The committee asked the White House to identify documents the president was seen reviewing at the table and detail the security protocols — if there were any — in place, including the ways in which guests at the Palm Beach members-only club are screened. Mar-a-Lago members pay a hefty $200,000 initiation fee as well as annual dues of $14,000.
The White House on Tuesday insisted that the dinner table conversation was about the “logistics” of an upcoming press conference about the nuclear missile — not North Korea’s launch itself. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump had been briefed on the launch before the dinner, in a military-grade secure area.
Presidential business as club members watch
News of the dinner table conversation broke after several Mar-a-Lago Club members recounted the situation on social media.
Witnesses said they were on the patio when a “flurry of activity” broke out at Trump’s table, where he was dining with Abe and other officials, just after the North Korean missile launch.
Palm Beach Daily News reporter Shannon Donnelly said that she was one of about 100 club members dining on the terrace at the time.
“As staff members and heads of state huddled at the table for 24 [people], printed reports were passed around and examined by the light of cell phones or flashlights. Notes were scribbled. A uniformed service member carrying the battered leather schoolbag moved closer to the table,” she wrote.
Richard DeAgazio, another member, shared photos showing Trump talking on the phone while seated next to Abe.
“HOLY MOLY !! It was fascinating to watch the flurry of activity at dinner when the news came that North Korea had launched a missile in the direction of Japan. … Wow…..the center of the action!!!” he wrote in the now-deleted Facebook post.
Carrying the ‘football’
In a separate Facebook post, DeAgazio posted a photo of himself at Mar-a-Lago with a Trump aide he claimed carried the ‘nuclear football,” a leather bag that contains the nuclear launch codes. The football travels with the president everywhere he goes, so Trump had access to the codes as club members snapped photos during the dinner.
But Trump, of course, isn’t the only world leader with access to nuclear power. North Korea boasted about its Saturday launch, calling it a successful test of a new type of missile.
In January, North Korea said it could launch a missile at anytime, and claimed it was forced to ramp up nuclear power due to the U.S.’s hostility toward the Asian nation. While North Korea did not threaten to directly attack the U.S., the comments indicate the ongoing tense relationship between the two countries.
And Trump has returned the hostile tone. On Monday, he vowed to “deal with” the “big, big problem” of North Korea, although he did not elaborate on what that could mean.
During the presidential transaction, Trump said he’d make nuclear power a top priority, and vowed to expand the U.S.’s weapons arsenal. In December, he reportedly encouraged a new arms race, boasting about how the U.S. could ramp up its arms supply.
“We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all,” he said.