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Military has spent nearly $200,000 at Trump’s Scottish resort since 2017

By Natasha Bertrand and Bryan Bender

Since Donald Trump took office, the U.S. military has spent nearly $200,000 at the president’s luxury Scotland resort, according to figures and documents the Pentagon provided to the House Oversight Committee.

The spending, which has all occurred since August 2017, paid for the equivalent of hundreds of nights of rooms at the Turnberry resort over approximately three dozen separate stays, the committee said.

The Air Force confirmed last week that its crews had stayed up to 40 times at Trump’s property since 2015, but it has not provided a breakdown of the number of stays since Trump was elected. The figures provided to the House Oversight Committee suggest the vast majority of stays have occurred since Trump took office, raising concerns among Democrats about a conflict of interest.

POLITICO first reported earlier this month that the Oversight Committee had been probing military spending at Turnberry since April to determine whether the money constituted a violation of the Constitution’s domestic emoluments clause, which prohibits the president from receiving any compensation from the federal government other than his salary.

After being elected, Trump chose not to fully divest himself from his business interests, choosing instead to put his holdings in a trust that he can receive money from at any time.

The committee’s probe has ramped up in the wake of POLITICO’s reporting on several overnight stays at the resort by U.S. Air Force crews, some of which have been multinight stays involving dozens of crew members and passengers.

The Pentagon documents showed that U.S. taxpayer funds “have been used to pay for more than three dozen separate stays involving hundreds of nights of rooms — all after the President was sworn into office,” according to a letter the committee’s chairman, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) wrote to acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday.

The Democrats called the Pentagon’s response so far — about 21 pages of material turned over to the panel, but no underlying invoices or travel records — “woefully inadequate.”

But the department did reveal that the average cost of a room at Turnberry for military service members from August 2017 to July 2019 was $189, and that Turnberry expenditures during that time period “amounted to $124,578.96” — plus an “an additional $59,729.12” in unspecified charges to government travel cards.

“If both of these claims are accurate, it appears that U.S. taxpayer funds were used to purchase the equivalent of more than 650 rooms at the Trump Turnberry just since August 2017 — or the equivalent of one room every night for more than one-and-a-half years,” the congressmen wrote.

The Air Force launched an internal review of how it chooses overnight accommodations on long flights after revelations that air crews had stayed at Trump's Scotland resort while refueling at Prestwick Airport, a small commercial airport nearby.

Prestwick has long been debt-ridden — the Scottish government bought it in 2013 for £1, but it has continued to lose money in the years since. The airport signed a refueling contract with the Defense Department in August 2016, but in June the government announced its intent to sell the airport, which is about 30 miles away from Turnberry.

In their letter to Esper on Wednesday, Cummings and Raskin wrote that according to documents provided by the Pentagon, expenditures at the airport from the day Trump was inaugurated through June 21, 2019 amounted to nearly $17 million. But while the department claimed to pay $3.38 per gallon for fuel, the congressmen wrote, “it did not provide any information on contemporaneous fuel rates at non-commercial sites, such as military bases elsewhere in Europe.”

Air Force Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas, the chief spokesman, told POLITICO in a statement earlier this month that “initial reviews indicate that aircrew transiting through Scotland adhered to all guidance and procedures.”

But he acknowledged that U.S. service members “lodging at higher-end accommodations, even if within government rates, might be allowable but not advisable. Therefore, we are reviewing all associated guidance.”

Democrats in Congress are eyeing legislation to put a stop to the practice altogether.

Nearly three dozen Democratic senators this week co-sponsored a bill that would make it illegal for the federal government to spend taxpayer dollars at properties owned by the president, vice president or members of the Cabinet.

The Heightened Oversight of Travel, Eating, and Lodging, or HOTEL, Act was introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), a member of the Armed Services Committee and the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“As elected officials, we must hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards and ensure that we are using taxpayer dollars responsibly,” Peters said in a statement.

Peters has also requested a formal probe of the Air Force’s use of Turnberry by the Pentagon’s inspector general. A spokeswoman for the IG, Dwrena Allen, declined to discuss the status of his request.

Ben Schreckinger contributed to this report.