Trump departs PBIA after press pool driver replaced because he had gun

President Donald Trump wrapped up Presidents Day weekend at Mar-a-Lago on Monday by signalling cautious support for a bill to improve federal gun background checks, visiting his golf club and Twitter-blasting former President Barack Obama over Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The president, who departed from his normal routine by not playing golf on Saturday or Sunday, spent about 4½ hours at his Trump International Golf Club in unincorporated West Palm Beach on Monday and was seen wearing golf attire afterward. The White House would not confirm whether the president played golf.

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Trump, first lady Melania Trump and son Barron left Mar-a-Lago around 4 p.m. and arrived at Palm Beach International Airport about 15 minutes later to board Air Force One for the trip back to Washington.

There was some motorcade drama earlier in the day when the driver of one of the three vans that carry journalists who cover the president was briefly detained after Secret Service agents found a gun in his bag.

The incident took place about an hour before Trump’s first motorcade of the day and occurred across the street from Mar-a-Lago in a parking lot where people, vehicles and bags are screened before they can enter the presidential compound. The driver, whose name was not released, told reporters he had forgotten to leave his “personal firearm” in his car before getting behind the wheel of the van.

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The Secret Service issued a statement confirming that “an individual serving as a staff contracted driver was briefly detained by U.S. Secret Service personnel and other law enforcement officials today. The individual was found to be in lawful possession of a prohibited item (firearm) outside the secure area at a Secret Service security screening checkpoint.

“The incident was investigated by the Secret Service and our partners at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) and resolved. At no time was any Secret Service protectee in danger or impacted. All Secret Service security measures worked.”

The driver and two others from the same company remained in the parking lot outside Mar-a-Lago as White House staffers were pressed into service driving the press vans. The media vans are typically several vehicles behind the president’s limousine, emergency vehicles and others in the motorcade.

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Before Trump left for his golf club on Monday morning, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement that the president, pending discussions and revisions, is “supportive of efforts to improve the Federal background check system.”

Specifically, Sanders said, Trump spoke to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., on Friday about a bill he is cosponsoring with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to strengthen the FBI’s database of people who are prohibited from buying guns.

Murphy, a passionate gun control advocate, responded on Twitter that the White House statement is “another sign the politics of gun violence are shifting rapidly.”

But, the Democrat added, “No one should pretend this bill alone is an adequate response to this epidemic.”

Gun laws have drawn renewed scrutiny since Wednesday’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland claimed 17 lives. The president and first lady visited some hospitalized victims and law enforcement officers in Broward County on Friday night and Trump spoke by phone Saturday with Stoneman Douglas Principal Ty Thompson, Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky and Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine.

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Trump also spent much of the weekend stewing over Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Late Saturday night he accused the FBI of failing to follow up on warnings about Parkland gunman Nikolas Cruz because the agency was “spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign — there is no collusion.”

Trump also seized on special counsel Robert Mueller’s finding that Russia began plotting to interfere in 2014 while Obama was president.

“Obama was President up to, and beyond, the 2016 Election. So why didn’t he do something about Russian meddling?” Trump tweeted on Monday afternoon from Mar-a-Lago about an hour before heading to the airport.

As the motorcade proceeded to the airport, many of the Trump supporters who regularly cheer the president were on hand — but farther than normal from the base of the bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway where they usually gather.

Cindy Falco-DiCorrado, a Trump supporter from Boynton Beach, said police dressed in SWAT gear told a group of Trump supporters on Sunday night that they weren’t allowed to stand on the bridge.

“They said you’re too close,” Falco-DiCorrado said Monday. “They said it’s dangerous.”

Multiple police officers stationed on the bridge Monday said they were just there to direct traffic and didn’t know if people were allowed to stand on the bridge. West Palm Beach Police Department Spokesman David Leftont said West Palm Beach officers weren’t stationed at the bridge on Sunday, and didn’t know if there were any official orders to keep people off of it.

Farther west along Southern, 17-year old Kristin Luaces and her 15-year old sister, Isabel Luaces, stood in front of the Publix shopping center to get a glimpse of the presidential motorcade.

“I just wish people would get to know who he really is,” Kristin said of Trump. “He’s an interesting guy. I’ll say that. I think he’s a good influence for our country.”

Isabel agreed. She said the criticism Trump has received in some quarters for his reaction to last week’s shooting in Broward County is misplaced.

“I don’t think it’s his fault,” she said. “Some kids are mentally abused. I feel the main cause is bullying. It’s a big tragedy, but you can’t help that something like that happens. You can’t blame someone who didn’t do it.”

Trump supporters far outnumbered protesters along the motorcade route, though one man carried a sign that said “GOP — The Red Herring Party” and another held a placard that said Trump was “Making The Dark Ages Great Again.”

Staff writer Wayne Washington and Palm Beach Daily News staff writer Ian Cohen contributed to this story.

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