Membership lists reviewed by The New York Times show that the club’s nearly 500 paying members include dozens of real estate developers, Wall Street financiers, energy executives and others whose businesses could be affected by Mr. Trump’s policies. At least three club members are under consideration for an ambassadorship. Most of the 500 have had memberships predating Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, and there are a limited number of memberships still available.
Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, said the president had no conflicts of interest, a reference to the fact that federal law exempts him from provisions prohibiting federal employees from taking actions that could benefit themselves financially.
“But regardless, he has not and will not be discussing policy with club members,” she said in a written statement.
Mar-a-Lago, she added, is “one of the most successful private clubs in the world,” and it “was intended to be the Southern White House, and the president looks forward to hosting many world leaders at this remarkable property.”
But unlike the real White House, there is no public access, and no official visitor log is available. When the White House press corps accompanied Mr. Trump to the club and nearby golf course last weekend, they were housed during part of the trip in a room whose windows had been covered with black plastic.
Mar-a-Lago members and their guests, on the other hand, had a front-row seat to a brewing foreign policy crisis, when Mr. Trump and his aides huddled on the dining patio to devise a response to North Korea’s launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile in the middle of a dinner with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, and his wife.
“No one needs to have a long sit-down with Donald Trump,” said Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, a nonpartisan watchdog group. “If you can whisper in his ear for 40 seconds, that can be decisive on your policy.”