Attorneys for former President Donald Trump were defending him not only on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday in his second impeachment trial, but also in Palm Beach, Florida, at a town council meeting.
On Capitol Hill they were fighting for his legacy; in Florida the fight was for his right to live full time at Mar-a-Lago, the club he owns and manages in Palm Beach. In doing so, his lawyer described Trump as the “mayor of Mar-a-Lago.”
The issue for the small affluent town of Palm Beach was Trump’s promise, long ago, not to call Mar-a-Lago home. Trump bought the former estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post in 1985 and turned it into a members-only club in 1993.
To transform the private residence into a revenue-generating business, he had to agree to certain limitations, based on guidelines presented as deal-breakers from Palm Beach. That deal stipulated that members could not live at the club for more than 21 days a year. Neighbors of the former President complained to the town that Trump has breached the agreement he signed.
Town attorney John “Skip” Randolph advised the council that the key issue was not the agreement, which he says was silent on the issue of whether Trump may reside at the club. Rather, he says, the issue is whether Trump is an employee of the club. Town zoning allows for a “bona fide employee of the club” to live at the clubs that they work at or own.
Trump’s longtime West Palm Beach attorney called the whole matter “silly,” since after Trump left the Oval Office last month he had reclaimed his “presidency of Mar-a-Lago.”
Attorney John Marion argued to the council that there was no provision in the agreement prohibiting Trump from living at the club, adding that “the zoning code says he has a right to live there as well.” He presented documentation to the council, signed by Trump on January 25, 2021, to verify that Trump was again president of Mar-a-Lago.
“There is no prohibition in there about the owner using the owner’s suite,” Marion said. “This guy (Trump), as he wanders the property, is like the mayor of Mar-a-Lago, if you will.”
“He’s always present, he owns the property and enjoys it like his home,” Marion added. “There’s no reason in the world that President Trump shouldn’t be able to reside at the club he owns.”
Trump’s attorney went on to list functions that the former President carries out while living and working at the club, saying he “evaluates the performance of employees” and attends “events held at the club and welcomes/thanks those attending.”
An attorney for one of Trump’s neighbors and the first to prompt the town to examine the issue so that they could return to a “peaceful life,” Roger Stambaugh, told the council, “My clients urge the town council to uphold the use agreement created with Mar-a-Lago in 1993.”
A representative for a group of Palm Beach island residents said they were concerned about the draw of the property for supporters of the former President.
“We feel this issue threatens to make Mar-a-Lago into a permanent beacon for his more rabid lawless supporters,” attorney Philip Johnston told the council.
Johnston asked the council to defer ruling on whether Trump is a bona fide employee of the club to give all parties an opportunity to prepare a legal response.
The council made no decision on the matter Tuesday. It is expected to revisit the issue in the spring.
CNN reported in December that nearby residents in the posh Florida town were not interested in supporting Trump making the club his permanent home after he left office.
And many once-loyal members of Mar-a-Lago are leaving because they no longer want to have any connection to Trump, according to the author of the definitive book about the resort.
“It’s a very dispirited place,” Laurence Leamer, historian and author of “Mar-a-Lago: Inside the Gates of Power at Donald Trump’s Presidential Palace,” told MSNBC last month. He said members are “not concerned about politics and they said the food is no good.”
Leamer said he had spoken to a number of former members who “silently walked out” after Trump left office.