Three weeks ago, ShareAmerica, a website run by the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, published a post about Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s resort in Florida. The article is, at a glance, fairly innocuous, describing some of the Palm Beach estate’s notable features and offering a brief rundown of its history and how it came into Trump’s possession.
On Monday, however, the Bureau came under heavy fire when numerous media outlets noticed the piece’s presence not only on ShareAmerica’s website but on that of the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in the United Kingdom and other embassies’ websites and social-media accounts. The post, as those outlets noted, could constitute an advertisement for Mar-a-Lago, which would arguably violate both the Constitution’s Domestic Emoluments Clause, which bars the president from accepting remuneration from the federal government beyond his official salary, and federal ethics laws constraining the use of government platforms for promoting private businesses.
Within hours of Monday’s media reports, the State Department pulled the page and offered a brief clarification: “The intention of the article,” reads the page the article once occupied, “was to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders. We regret any misperception and have removed the post.” Though the retraction was apparently meant to put the matter to rest, it only further highlights how blurry the line has become between official government business and advertisements for the Trump Organization’s properties—and how the Trump administration’s lax ethical standards complicate the calculus for even the most banal functions of modern governance.