Trump Organization charged Secret Service rates as high as $650 a night to stay at president's own properties: report
The Trump Organization has billed American taxpayers up to $650 per night for Secret Service accommodations at the president's own properties, according to The Washington Post.
President Donald Trump previously claimed that his company only charges taxpayers minimal fees or "at cost" when government employees stay at his properties. His son, Trump Organization Vice President Eric Trump, also claimed to Yahoo Finance last year that the government "saves a fortune" by staying at the president's properties rather than other nearby hotels.
"If my father travels, they stay at our properties for free — meaning like, cost for housekeeping," Eric Trump said at the time. "If they were to go to a hotel across the street, they'd be charging them $500 a night, whereas, you know, we charge them like 50 bucks."
But Secret Service records obtained by The Washington Post reveal that was statement was false.
Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach charged Secret Service a rate of $650 per night "dozens of times" in 2017 before charging them $396 "dozens more times" in 2018, according to the report. The initial cost was more than three times the $182 nightly limit for federal employees in the area and was even higher than what State Department staff were charged to stay at Mar-a-Lago around the same time.
The records also showed that the Secret Service was charged an "unusually high" $17,000 per month fee to use a three-bedroom cottage at Trump's Bedminster, N.J., golf club in 2017. The average price for a similar rental in the area at the time was $3,400. The company even billed the government for days when the president was not staying there, according to The Post.
The full extent of Secret Service spending at Trump properties is unknown, because the Secret Service failed to list the expenses in public databases despite reporting requirements for payments exceeding $10,000. The Washington Post found more than 103 payments totaling more than $471,000 between January 2017 and April 2018, according to federal records.
The Secret Service is required to report its expenditures at Trump's properties to Congress two times a year, but it has failed to file four of its six required reports since 2016. Officials told the outlet the reports were missing, because staff left and were not replaced. But the two reports the agency did file did not include expenditures from Trump's Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster resorts, according to The Post.
In contrast, Secret Service and presidential aides were allowed to stay for free at former presidential properties: George H.W. Bush's compound in Maine, Bill Clinton's New York home and George W. Bush's Texas ranch.
Jordan Libowitz of the government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told The Post the missing costs were as concerning as the available information.
"It is more than a little disconcerting — knowing this is going on and not knowing what the actual numbers are," he said. "That's kind of crazy that we know the president is benefiting from the presidency, and we do not know how. We do not know how many taxpayer dollars are in his pocket."
Eric Trump issued a statement in response to the report, claiming that "we provide the rooms at cost and could make far more money renting them to members or guests." However, he did not explain how the company calculates the "at-cost" price.
The president vowed during his former campaign that he would "rarely leave the White House, because there's so much work to be done."
"I would not be a president who took vacations," he claimed in 2015. "I would not be a president that takes time off."
But Trump has spent more than 342 days at his own properties, or a full third of his entire presidency, according to a running tally by The Post.
When Democrats sought to investigate the costs of Trump's travel, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin refused to turn records over until after the 2020 election.
"They've really stonewalled us," Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., a member of the Appropriations Committee, told The Post. "He's trying to hide the details from the public, because he knows how bad it looks. That's the truth of it. He's a billionaire, but we're spending millions of dollars to support his for-profit clubs and for-profit businesses."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said the report proved that Trump abused his power for profit.
"Donald Trump is exploiting our government to line his own pockets," she tweeted. "This is corruption, plain and simple."
Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.