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Trump's New Year's Eve party raises awkward questions

There's nothing wrong with a president hosting a New Year's Eve party. There's quite a bit wrong with a president profiting from a New Year's Eve party.
US President-elect Donald Trump answers questions from the media after a day of meetings on December 28, 2016 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. 

There's nothing wrong with a president hosting a New Year's Eve party. There's quite a bit wrong with a president profiting from a New Year's Eve party.

A year ago, sandwiched between his election and his inauguration, Donald Trump hosted a soiree at Mar-a-Lago, the private resort he owns in Florida, with tickets costing more than $500 a piece. As we discussed at the time, the president-elect was effectively selling access to himself, with some of the money ending up in his own pocket.

Norm Eisen, who served as ethics counselor to President Obama, described the dynamic at the time as "atrocious."

Undeterred by the criticism, Trump did the same thing this year. The New York Times  reported:

As he walked down the red carpet to begin his New Year's Eve celebrations Sunday night, President Trump stopped to predict "a tremendous year" ahead.It certainly appeared to be getting off to a lavish start at his Mar-a-Lago club. Before the president arrived ... a string of guests decked out in jewels, fur and sequins had already streamed in, having paid hundreds of dollars each to celebrate with the president and his family.

Specifically, according to Politico, Trump's resort increased the price of admission to the party quite a bit, from $525 to $600 for Mar-a-Lago's dues-paying members, and from $575 to $750 for their guests.

This comes on top of the membership fee ($200,000) and annual dues ($14,000) Trump's wealthy customers already pay.

If you're curious who's writing all of these checks to the president's business, and what they're telling him during private audiences at Mar-a-Lago, too bad: Trump World won't disclose that information.

The opportunity for corruption may seem obvious, but at least for now, it's going unchecked. We know what Trump charged for the right to attend a party with him, but we don't know who wrote the checks or how much of the total amount will be profit that benefits the president directly.

The Daily Beast's Sam Stein imagined what the political world's reaction would've been if a President Hillary Clinton tried to profit from a New Year's Eve party at a property she owned. "It would cause a country-wide fever panic," Sam wrote, "and for good reason."

The gala coincided with an interesting Washington Post piece, published on Friday, which noted that many Trump aides are frustrated when Trump is at Mar-a-Lago, because it's "harder for his West Wing staffers to control his daily media diet and personal contacts as they try to do in Washington."

"At Mar-a-Lago, anyone who can get within eyesight changes the game," said a former White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss a sensitive subject, and referring to club members and guests who sometimes try to influence the president on policy, share an opinion on his administration or simply say hello. "Everyone who is angling for something knows to be there."

In other words, White House staffers recognize the opportunity for corruption, and lament the fact that some help Trump personally profit in order to "influence the president on policy," but they're not in a position to prevent any of this.

Perhaps, if Congress were willing to exercise its oversight responsibilities, even a little, Trump might have an incentive to behave more responsibly?