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Trump Raises Alarm by Praising Chinese President's Power Grab at Private Mar-a-Lago Fundraiser

One ethics expert responded to Trump's remarks by posing the question: "How many hints do we need that he wants to be a dictator?"

Xi Jinping, Donald Trump

President Donald Trump poses for a photo with Chinese President Xi Jinping April 6, 2017, at the entrance of Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo: D. Myles Cullen/White House/Flickr)

While President Donald Trump earned some laughs at a D.C. dinner on Saturday—in his words, "nobody does self-deprecating humor better than I do"—ethics experts warn his commentary earlier in the day, praising the Chinese president's power grab, was no laughing matter.

"Either he's losing it, or we're losing it if we let him stay on after this."
—Richard Painter, former White House ethics lawyer

CNN obtained audio from a closed-door event in which Trump spoke favorably about a recent move by Chinese President Xi Jinping to remain in his post by removing presidential term limits from the state constitution.

"He's now president for life. President for life. No, he's great," Trump said Saturday during a lunch and fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago estate, the so-called Winter White House. "And look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day."

The remarks alarmed ethics experts. Norm Eisen, the Obama administration's legal counsel and current chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), reacted on Twitter:

Former White House ethics attorneys Walt Shaub and Richard Painter also quickly weighed in:

Others added context by pointing to the current conditions in China under Xi Jinping:

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