With Hurricane Irma heading toward Florida, America is watching in horror as the Sunshine State braces for what is expected to be historic damage. Among the many Florida buildings in the path of the storm is Mar-A-Lago, President Trump's private club and frequent weekend residence. The estate is in Palm Beach, which is expected to be directly hit by the hurricane on Sunday. With the possibility that the president's own property getting damaged by a hurricane, it seems worth recalling an incident in the mid-2000s, when Donald Trump claimed millions for Mar-A-Lago's hurricane damage that reportedly didn't happen.
According to an Associated Press report published nearly a year ago in the midst of the 2016 election, President Trump received $17 million in insurance payouts for damage incurred in 2005. Trump said in 2007, as part of a deposition in a libel case (against a biographer who asserted Trump was worth far less than he claims, an assertion he denies), that he had received the payment in order to pay for “landscaping, roofing, walls, painting, leaks, artwork in the — you know, the great tapestries, tiles, Spanish tiles, the beach, the erosion." According to Trump at the time: “It’s still not what it was.”
However, the Associated Press' reporting did not find evidence of any serious damage to the club, beyond some downed trees after Hurricane Wilma. The AP interviewed Mar-A-Lago's longtime butler, Anthony Senecal, who said that the building had never been seriously damaged by any hurricane in all the years since he had been working there.
“That house has never been seriously damaged,” Senecal reportedly told the Associated Press about the history of the house with regards to hurricanes. “I was there for all of them.”
Trump's insurance claim reportedly did not require all of the payment to be spent on repairs related to the damage itself, meaning that some of that money (or, if the damage wasn't nearly as bad as Trump claimed, much of it) went into his own pockets.
There's even some photographic evidence. Trump's son Donald Jr. got married at Mar-A-Lago about two weeks after Hurricane Wilma, with over 350 guests in attendance. The Associated Press didn't see anything suggesting serious hurricane damage in photographs of the event taken by Getty Images.
You can see for yourself — below are several pictures taken at the wedding on November 12, 2005, just after Hurricane Wilma hit in late October. There does not appear to be serious damage to the building.
Furthermore, the Associated Press couldn't find any records in Palm Beach of permits related to the kind of construction projects that nearly $17 million worth of repairs would have required. For Trump to have undergone the kinds of repairs he referred to without having gotten proper permits would likely have been illegal. And according to planning administrators in Palm Beach, the construction project would have required dozens of laborers to complete.
“If there were $17 million dollars of damage, we sure as hell would have known about that,” a Palm Beach administrator told the AP.
The Associated Press did manage to speak with a former employee of the insurance company who had overseen the assessment of damage done to Mar-A-Lago at the time. According to Hank Stein, an insurance assessor who worked at VeriClaim Inc. at the time, there was serious water damage from windows that had been blown in by the storm, as well as some damage to roof, landscaping and the golf course. But Stein was unable to provide further details on the claim more than a decade before.
Trump's alleged claim played into the narrative during the election that Trump tended to exaggerate his success as a business executive. But with the increased attention that comes with the role of president and Irma barreling toward Florida, it's safe to say that Mar-A-Lago will be scrutinized closely.