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Here’s what it’s like to traverse the members-only grounds of Mar-a-Lago, from a reporter who’s been there

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Side-by-side collage of Insider's Darren Samuelsohn at Mar-a-Lago and the backyard of Donald Trump's private club.

Insider DC bureau chief Darren Samuelsohn in March 2017 at Mar-a-Lago, while working as a White House reporter for Politico. Also pictured is the backyard of Donald Trump’s private club. Darren Samuelsohn

Memories of Mar-a-Lago came flooding back Monday night when the news broke that the FBI had executed a search warrant on Donald Trump’s permanent residence.

My visits there as a White House reporter for Politico more than five years ago came during the earliest days of Trump’s presidency. They gave me an up-close look into all of the controversy and celebrity hoopla that surrounded a man who just months earlier had become the most powerful person on the planet.

In all, I made three trips in March 2017 to go inside Trump’s exclusive South Florida resort.

I toured the well-manicured grounds and snapped my own picture of the famous Trump painting that hangs in the main bar and watched Melania Trump from a distance as she headed into a gathering of Republican donors. I even held open the big iron main door for Ivanka Trump and her three young children before they all sat down with Jared Kushner for brunch just a few feet away from my own table.

A post shared by Ivanka Trump (@ivankatrump)

Ivanka posted this picture on Instagram on that same morning just a short time after I saw her and her family.

Guests hold up a sign about immigration at Mar-a-Lago during the Palm Beach Republican Party's Lincoln Day dinner on March 24, 2017.

Guests hold up a sign about immigration at Mar-a-Lago during the Palm Beach Republican Party’s Lincoln Day dinner on March 24, 2017. Darren Samuelsohn

Credentialed reporters were free to move around the Donald J. Trump Ballroom and mingle with the guests. There were plenty of pro-Trump advocates like this, as well as some big names in Florida politics.  

On this particular night, I met Adam Putnam, who was serving as Florida’s Agriculture commissioner and was jockeying for a run to succeed Scott as governor.

Putnam announced his campaign a few weeks after this dinner, and he was seen as an early frontrunner. But then Trump endorsed Ron DeSantis, a sitting congressman, and, well, we know the history from there. 

Politico is owned by Axel Springer, Insider’s parent company.

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