ProPublica had a story to tell, and the story had an opening anecdote, and the anecdote had a receipt, an actual one, to go with it. The receipt was from Mar-a-Lago, in April of 2017, when the Trump administration was hosting a Chinese delegation at the president’s for-profit resort:
[A] group repaired to Mar-a-Lago’s Library Bar, a wood-paneled study with a portrait of Trump in tennis whites (titled “The Visionary”) hanging nearby. The group asked the bartender to leave the room so it “could speak confidentially,” according to an email written by Mar-a-Lago’s catering director, Brooke Watson.
The Secret Service guarded the door, according to the email. The bartender wasn’t allowed to return. And members of the group began pouring themselves drinks. No one paid.
Six days later, on April 13, Mar-a-Lago created a bill for those drinks, tallying $838 worth of alcohol plus a 20% service charge. It covered 54 drinks (making for an average price of $18.62 each) of premium liquor: Chopin vodka, Patron and Don Julio Blanco tequilas and Woodford Reserve bourbon…
The bill was sent to the State Department, which objected to covering it. It was then forwarded to the White House, which paid the tab.
The anecdote was a parable, and not only a parable but the thing unto itself. Government officials ran up a liquor tab helping themselves to the bottles at the president’s private club, at taxpayer expense and to the president’s profit. “Donald Trump’s White House pays a bill and Donald Trump’s club reaps the revenue,” ProPublica wrote.
Yesterday was another day full of terrible and indefensible things. The attorney general, chosen by the president for his history of covering up past abuses of executive power and for his freely expressed readiness to protect the current executive, was stonewalling and lying to the Senate about his current cover-up efforts. Another child had died in immigrant detention.
What was a liquor tab in all this? Wrong question. What if there were just the liquor tab? The president’s people pouring themselves top-shelf booze and then shopping around the four-figure bill from department to department till they found someone willing to reimburse it. The money going to the president—with the 20 percent service fee, despite the bartender having been locked out of the room! The networks would all cover it. The panelists would all yell about it. Every person in the room would be named and shamed and asked if they were going to resign. (ProPublica wrote that “participants included then-strategist Steve Bannon and then-deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin” although “Bannon, who has said he stopped drinking years ago, said he didn’t drink at Mar-a-Lago and didn’t recall the episode.”)
There wasn’t just the liquor tab, though, not even in the story. There was Mar-a-Lago rejecting a $200,000 bulk purchase of rooms, to cover the whole presidential term, in favor of charging individually at “the maximum permitted by federal rules: 300% of the government’s per diem rate, which works out to $546 per night.” There were further billing antics:
Six government contracting experts said Mar-a-Lago may be violating rules requiring competitive bids. They argue that Mar-a-Lago’s practice of invoicing meeting spaces, hotel stays and meals separately is a way to get around federal spending rules.
And there was the whole page where ProPublica maintains an ongoing chart of the known spending that the Trump campaign, other political organizations, and the Trump administration have directed to Trump properties. There are hundreds of payments, totaling more than $16 million—pure, obvious self-enriching corruption, month after month, year after year. There are other stories, and there are deeper stories, but while the Democrats dither about what grounds for impeachment might look like, and while the politics press desperately tries to hurry things along into a regular old them-versus-them campaign story, this one is still there, factual and undenied, one more memorial to what people used to think would be intolerable.