In March 2017, Politico published one of the first reports detailing the unusual challenge posed by Trump’s regular trips to the club.
“As Trump’s private club in South Florida has been transformed into a fortress of armed guards, military-grade radar, bomb-sniffing dogs and metal-detecting checkpoints,” said Darren Samuelsohn . wrote“there are still notable vulnerabilities, namely the flow of guests who can enter the property without background checks.”
Because Trump operates a club on the property, members are allowed to explore the grounds with guests. It hosts many events – political fundraisers, weddings, etc. – which provide an otherwise unheard of level of access for a presidential (or even post-presidential) residence.
In 2019, the perils of the scenario surfaced when a Chinese national was arrested after gaining access to the facility while in possession of several phones and other electronic devices. She went to reception after bypassing security saying she was going to the pool.
This situation carries new weight this week.
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On Monday, as you are no doubt aware, the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago and obtained a number of boxes of equipment from the property. It was the latest step in a protracted effort to secure the material Trump took with him when he left office, including, it appears, classified documents. Among these, reported Thursday evening the Washington Post, it could be those relating to nuclear weapons.
In addition to learning more about the nature of what Trump allegedly possessed at Mar-a-Lago, news reports over the past few days have fleshed out our understanding of where the material was kept and how it was protected. . Immediately after the search, Trump’s attorneys revealed that material had been recovered from three locations: Trump’s office above the ballroom, a bedroom, and a “storage area.”
This storage area has been described in some reports as a “basement”, but, according for NewsNation reporter Brian Entin, was actually “a storage room in an interior hallway by the pool.” Measuring approximately 10 feet by 6 feet, the room was lined with cardboard boxes. You can see the swimming pool in the center of the complex on the map below. (There’s also another pool to the east, adjacent to the ocean.)
This room, it seems, was the one that caught the attention of investigators in the weeks before the FBI arrived. An official from the Ministry of Justice would have visited the property and saw the room in June; after this visit, the department recommended that a lock be added for added security. That lock was added, a Trump lawyer said — and then broken when the FBI arrived on Monday.
But remember, we’re not just talking about a poolside room at Trump’s. We are talking about a room near a swimming pool which is used regularly for events.
A quick review of Instagram shows how often this area is the focus of facility events that are open to the public. Here is an example, a model posing by the pool at an event.
And here’s Kari Lake, Republican gubernatorial candidate from Arizona, posing for a photo near the east end of the pool earlier this year after attending a screening of the movie “2000 Mules.”
One of the most interesting photos is this one, promoting a luxury car event which took place in Mar-a-Lago earlier this year. In the background you can see the buildings of Mar-a-Lago – including, under palm trees, a covered hallway lined with doors.
The location of the storage area searched by the FBI is not yet known. But it’s easy to see how problematic storing gear in general proximity to the pool could have been: it was a focal point of activity as part of Mar-a-Lago’s day-to-day business.
In addition to requesting an additional lock for the storage room itself, the government has also subpoenaed surveillance footage which, The New York Times reported, “could have given officials insight into who was entering and leaving the storage area.” This may have been an effort to determine if particular individuals had entered the room – or simply to assess the level of risk posed by having the material near publicly accessible areas.
Questions about Trump’s handling of classified information predated his presidency and accelerated rapidly once he was inaugurated. There were – and there are – many reasons to think that Trump was less attentive to the protection of classified information than his predecessors in the White House or other elected officials. Then he left office and moved into an event space, allegedly taking a number of secrets with him.
This week’s research, touted by Trump and his allies as the nefarious actions of a devious deep state, may have focused on something far less controversial: ensuring that a slightly tipsy guy who s traveled to Mar-a-Lago to check out Ferrari 2023 models didn’t accidentally stumble upon America’s nuclear vulnerabilities while looking for the bathroom.