WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump caused a public flurry at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on Saturday as he conferred over iceberg wedge salads with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on decisions with apparent national security implications.
Reports that North Korea had launched a medium-range ballistic missile came as President Trump was hosting the prime minister, who condemned the missile launch as “absolutely intolerable” in a press conference at the president’s Florida estate. Trump followed Abe with even fewer words, saying in part: “I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.”
Abe read a brief statement in which he called on North Korea to comply fully with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. He said Trump has assured him of U.S. support and that Trump’s presence showed the president’s determination and commitment.
Club members at Mar-a-Lago snapped photos and posted them to Facebook with detailed narratives about what they were seeing unfold before their eyes in Palm Beach, Florida.
“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,” Richard DeAgazio wrote on his public Facebook page.
DeAgazio also posed for a photo with a man whom he said carries the “nuclear football” for the president. He’s since deleted his account and did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
CNN and other news outlets used DeAgazio’s and other social media accounts to write about what seemed to be an open-air situation room. The publicly shared photos showed Trump, illuminated by cell phone flashlights, conducting a discussion with Abe on the terrace of his oceanfront resort, in an area accessible to members.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said no classified material was discussed at the dinner table and that the president had been briefed before and afterward in a secure setting. He said the photos on social media depicted Trump and Abe aides discussing the logistics of a press conference they were about to hold.
Yet Democrats said the scene at Mar-a-Lago seemed to pose security risks. Trump spent much of his campaign blasting opponent Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server to conduct business while she was Secretary of State, something Trump said was not nearly secure enough.
“There’s inconsistency all over the place in terms of how much Donald Trump raised national security on the campaign trail and how he is now operating as president,” said Brian Fallon, who was Clinton’s campaign spokesman. “And there’s hypocrisy from congressional leaders who demagogued this issue, constantly accusing Hillary Clinton of doing something that was far less egregious than this very conspicuous departure from security protocols.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote on Twitter, “There’s no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump “never should have had such a sensitive discussion in such a public place.”
Some Republicans appeared frustrated by Trump’s Saturday night powwow. “You can’t make it up,” said Arizona Sen. John McCain, a frequent Trump critic of late.
“Usually that’s not a place where you do that kind of thing,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
The chairman of that committee, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, seemed dismissive of the concerns.
“If the president didn’t speak of things that couldn’t be spoken of in public, then there’s no problem with it,” he said. He said he saw no immediate need for a briefing on the matter.
After the scene at the resort, the two world leaders stepped into a wedding being held on Trump’s property. A guest shot a minute-long video of Trump’s impromptu speech, which was then shared with New York Magazine.
“I said to the prime minister of Japan, I said, ‘Come on, Shinzo, let’s go over and say hello,” Trump says in the video. “It’s an honor to be with you, and you really are a special, beautiful couple.”
The groom, Carl Henry Lindner IV, is the son of the chief executive of American Financial Group. The elder Lindner gave $100,000 last fall to two super PACs supporting Trump.
At the event, the video showed, the president kissed the bride on the cheek and encouraged the guests to get back to dancing.
Critics said the evening’s meeting with Abe also brought up an ethical component: Mar-a-Lago memberships now cost $200,000. Some of that money makes its way back to the president, since he has stepped away from operating his businesses but not given up his financial stake. And those who can afford it get special access to Trump, who has dubbed Mar-a-Lago his “Winter White House” and now has traveled there two weekends in a row for official duties.
“This is all a symptom of Donald Trump continuing to commingle his business ventures with his official government duties,” Fallon said. “He’s trying to make Mar-a-Lago more of a destination for paying members and paying diners by bringing state visitors there.”