On Saturday night, Trump and Abe were eating at Mar-a-Lago, after meeting at the White House on Friday and retiring to Florida for golf over the weekend. They didn’t eat in a private dining room, mind you: They were right out on the terrace, where they dined on the regular menu, rather than some special menu. Richard DeAgazio, a retired investor who recently joined the club, snapped a photo with the officer he said carries the “football,” the briefcase with nuclear launch codes.
It was a perfect stage for Trump, a man often derided by his critics as “unpresidential,” to show just how presidential he was, performing his discharge of the duties, even hosting an important foreign leader, right there for the people (or at least his people) to see.
“He chooses to be out on the terrace, with the members. It just shows that he’s a man of the people,” DeAgazio told The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold.
But the show—the one being put on, and the one being witnessed—got even better when the news arrived of the North Korean missile launch. DeAgazio posted pictures on Facebook that showed Trump and Abe and their advisers huddling, trying to figure out what was going on. Here was history being made, albeit with some peculiarities as to the setting, beginning with the presence of Patriots owner Bob Kraft, who was dining with them. Fahrenthold notes a few of the security vulnerabilities the arrangement presents:
The two leaders could have discussed classified documents within earshot of waiters and club patrons. Those cellphones-turned-flashlights might also have been a problem: if one of them had been hacked by a foreign power, the phone’s camera could have provided a view of what the documents said.
Working at Mar-a-Lago, or joining the club, doesn’t require the same security screening that it generally takes to be in the president’s inner circle, either. Stranger still, Trump reportedly went straight from a brief press conference about the missile launch to crashing a wedding being held at the club and offering a toast—dragging Abe along with him. “Come on, Shinzo, lets go over and say hello,” Trump says he said. CNN reports Trump also said, “They’ve been members of this club for a long time. They’ve paid me a fortune.” What better prop to show your thanks than the head of government from America’s fourth biggest trading partner?
Trump has private spaces at Mar-a-Lago to which he could have repaired with Abe. It’s also not as if presidents don’t often encounter sensitive situations while away from the White House, for which they use a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, a protected zone than can be temporarily established. But Trump didn’t do that. He wanted to conduct his business out in the open.
One could argue that this is a good thing. Isn’t the presidency already far too secretive? Wouldn’t a little more transparency do the American people some good? The same could be said, for example, of his continued tweeting from his personal account, which offers a remarkable window in the mindset (and media-consumption habits) of a president with little filter who’s prone to petty feuds.