Democratic senator requests investigation into Trump's Scottish airport deal
On Tuesday, three different committees in the House announced that they were looking into why the U.S. Air Force had been rerouting planes to a nonmilitary airport in Scotland, with crews staying overnight at Donald Trump’s Turnberry golf resort. That evening, Sen. Gary Peters—the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee—requested that the House not go it alone this time, and that the Senate also begin a formal investigation.
The trip to Glasgow’s Prestwick Airport takes planes traveling between the United States and the Middle East or Afghanistan well off their normal path. It results in not only a longer trip, but one that is much more costly, as the planes must buy fuel at commercial rates rather than refueling at a military base. It also means that air crews end up staying at Trump’s resort rather than in base housing. The bill at Prestwick over the last year has been at least $10 million, and a minimum of four transport plane crews have dropped in, left their planes to refuel, and stayed overnight at Trump’s resort. The total bill at Prestwick and Trump’s Turnberry club appears to be near $20 million.
The Trump Organization and Prestwick Airport worked out a deal in 2014 under which crews of private and commercial planes making an overnight stop would be routed to Trump’s resort, even though it’s over 30 miles away and there are many closer, less expensive places to stay. But then, Turnberry does offer its guests a free round of golf. Whether that deal means that Trump receives some share of fuel costs or other airport fees isn’t clear. What is clear is that Trump directly profits from these visits to Turnberry, and that the number of visits to the airport has risen steeply since Trump’s election.
The Air Force is conducting its own internal review in addition to investigations by the House committees. Politico reports that Peters wants the Senate to join the investigation—though that institution has largely remained on the sidelines on other Trump-related matters.
The Turnberry connection to the Air Force is just one of several cases in which Trump appears to be profiting from his position. But with the military budget being raided to fund Trump’s border fence, it’s particularly disturbing to know he lined his pockets with money from that same budget.
While Trump hotels across the United States have been in decline, his hotel in Washington, D.C., has been a hot spot for both conservative groups and foreign officials trying to show their loyalty to Trump by renting a ballroom or three. And not only has Trump himself poured millions into his U.S. golf courses by simply making regular visits—along with an entourage of staff and Secret Service—but he has also proposed one of those resorts as the site of the next G-7 summit, a deal that would net him millions more.
Investigations into the Air Force actions around Turnberry have been slowed so far because the military claims to have no database of travel expenses and so can’t say how many air crews have stayed at Trump’s resort. Instead, investigators are having to dig up individual travel reports. If true, it seems like the military travel system is an open invitation to abuse.
At this point, it’s unclear whether anyone in the White House ordered the Air Force to make more frequent use of Turnberry, or whether that idea was generated by someone in the military hoping to please Trump. No matter where it came from, it’s costing the American public, and routing taxpayer dollars directly to Trump’s bank account.
A bill passed by the House would make it illegal for the Pentagon to spend money at 57 specific Trump properties, including Turnberry, although it could use those properties if Trump reimburses any profits. Mitch McConnell has not allowed that bill to come up for a vote in the Senate.