Hurricane Irma already appears to have severely damaged President Donald Trump’s mansion on St. Martin in the Caribbean, and the Category 4 storm is now bearing down on his private Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, FL.
Well after Hurricane Harvey devastated Southeast Texas, the House of Representatives sent a bill providing for hurricane relief to Trump’s desk ahead of Irma’s landfall — after negotiations between Trump and Democratic leaders — tied to a raise in the debt ceiling for three months. Given that Irma, one of the most powerful storms on record, is making a beeline for one of Trump’s favorite properties, observers have been skeptical of the President’s motives for such quick action.
The suspicion isn’t without warrant either. Despite the president’s pledge to donate $1 million of his own money to relief efforts following Harvey (and finally caving to public pressure to reveal the recipients of the funds), Trump has a history of taking in substantial amounts of money for dubious claims of storm damage.
In 2005, Trump said he pocketed a $17 million insurance payment for hurricane damage to the $150 million Mar-a-Lago property, but investigations turned up little evidence there was much damage, if there was any at all.
According to AP News, Trump “said he didn’t know how much had been spent on repairs but acknowledged he pocketed some of the money. Trump transferred funds into his personal accounts, saying that under the terms of his policy, ‘you didn’t have to reinvest it.’”
Mar-a-Lago members and staff contradicted Trump’s claims of damage, and photographs from his son’s wedding there just two weeks after Hurricane Wilma in 2005 showed the buildings and landscaping in “good repair,” the AP noted, and a former butler said the building only suffered the loss of a few roof tiles. Additionally, no construction permits were pulled in the aftermath that would have been required for any repairs approaching $17 million in damage.
The Trump Organization has closed its three major Florida properties ahead of Irma, and Trump will reportedly be watching the situation unfold — quite closely, one can imagine — from Camp David in Maryland.