The news media blackout was nothing unusual in the annals of presidential free time. President Barack Obama routinely played golf out of sight of the press pool that traveled with him, only occasionally allowing a glimpse of him taking a swing or interacting with his partners.


Mr. Trump and Melania Trump with Mr. Abe of Japan and his wife, Akie Abe, and Robert K. Kraft of the New England Patriots at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Friday.

Al Drago/The New York Times

But it was the latest reminder that Mr. Trump?s presidency is mixing his official role with the business that bears his name. Mr. Abe?s visit was the first of what Mr. Trump?s top aides say will be many in which he uses Mar-a-Lago, the 126-room, pink-hued and Spanish-tiled castle on Florida?s Gold Coast, as a setting for forging high-stakes relationships with important world leaders.

That is likely to mean that the property ? along with Trump golf courses nearby in Jupiter and West Palm Beach, where the president squired Mr. Abe on Saturday, along with the professional golfer Ernie Els ? will draw increased attention and prominence, with all the potential for additional profit that brings. Mar-a-Lago has doubled its initiation rate for new members, to $200,000.

?We got to know each other very, very well? on the golf course, Mr. Trump told reporters Saturday evening as he stood beside Mr. Abe and their wives on the way to dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Nearby, a line of clubgoers in formal wear maneuvered Bentleys and Rolls-Royces into the driveway as a full moon rose over the palm trees.

The administration said that Mr. Trump was hosting Mr. Abe and his wife as a ?gift? to the Japanese leader and has said that any profits earned from the stays of members of foreign governments at Trump properties during his presidency would be donated to the United States Treasury, to avoid the appearance that he was cashing in on his office.

It may be a frequent arrangement. Mr. Trump, his aides say, believes in getting to know foreign leaders with whom he will be spending time and taking their measure in informal settings outside Washington.

?President Trump is a deal maker, and his coin of the realm is personal relationships and trying to convince people to negotiate a certain way in his favor, so this is what he does,? Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who has studied presidential travel, said.

Mr. Trump is not the first president to make use of a personal retreat to engage in informal diplomacy. George W. Bush hosted foreign leaders at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, while Bill Clinton used Camp David, the official presidential retreat near Thurmont, Md., as an informal backdrop for high-stakes diplomacy, including efforts to forge peace in the Middle East. But for Mr. Trump, his retreat is also a for-profit club that benefits his family business, from which he has declined to divest.

?It?s just one more example of using public office for private gain,? Richard W. Painter, a White House counsel to Mr. Bush who is an expert on government ethics, said. ?He?s going to Trump this, Trump that ? it?s clearly designed to raise the value of the brand and send the message to foreign leaders that you ought to patronize Trump properties if you want to get in good with the president.?

On Saturday, Mr. Trump appeared to have taken some steps to separate the personal from the political. While Mr. Trump and Mr. Abe shuttled from resort to resort in the armored presidential limousine known as the Beast, the flags that normally flutter on the front and the presidential seals that usually adorn the doors were absent, an indication that these were not official stops.

There were other reminders that the visit was unfolding almost exclusively on Mr. Trump?s own turf. At the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, journalists traveling with him were admonished not to take pictures or video.

?It?s a private club,? an aide explained.

Continue reading the main story