After an off-record stop at Trump's Turnberry resort in Scotland, a formal investigation has been launched into US Air Force expenditure.
When Donald Trump first entered the White House as United States President, there was much speculation about how he would keep his business separate from his responsibilities as a government official. Now, it appears that he simply cannot. In a revealing article by Politico, it was reported that Air Force crew members were staying at his resort in Turnberry, Scotland during long layovers - paid for with American citizens' tax money. This effectively means that President Trump is profiting off of taxpayers. A formal investigation into the matter has been launched since the discovery of the "odd stop" on an otherwise routine Air Force trip.
Early this Spring, an Air National Guard crew set off on a routine trip from the United States to Kuwait in order to deliver supplies. However, the crew made an off-record "pit stop" in Scotland, where they stayed at Trump's Turnberry property located an estimated 50 miles outside Glasgow, Scotland. They made the stop in Scotland both on the way to the Middle East as well as on the way back to their base in the United States. Since then, a House Oversight Committee has been tasked with finding out why the crew on the C-17 military transport flight made the unexpected stay.
The investigation is part of an earlier broader and unreported inquiry into national military expenditures at and around the Scottish Trump property. As per Politico, a letter sent to the Pentagon in June reported that the military spent a total of $11 million on fuel at the Prestwick Airport (the airport closest to Trump's Turnberry resort) since October 2017. They noted that this fuel would have been cheaper at a military base in the United States. Simultaneously, the letter cited an additional report which revealed that the airport offered crew members cut-rate rooms and free rounds of golf at the Turnberry. It has been hypothesized that these non-routine stops have helped keep the Trump property afloat and economically viable; While the resort made a loss of $4.5 million in 2017, it was able to increase revenue by $3 million in 2018.
The first time the C-17 crew made a pit-stop at the Turnberry came as quite the surprise to crew members. While layovers are common, the choice of hotel was markedly different from the commercial airports that the military crew is generally used to. A certain crew member was so shocked by the decision to stay at the Trump property, in fact, that he "texted someone close to him and told him about the stay, sending a photo and noting that the crew’s per diem allowance wasn’t enough to cover food and drinks at the ritzy resort." It was, according to the military official, definitely not similar to the Hiltons or the Marriotts his squadron was used to.
Unfortunately, it appears that the Defense Department has not been cooperative thus far. A senior Democratic aide on the oversight panel stated, "The Defense Department has not produced a single document in this investigation. The committee will be forced to consider alternative steps if the Pentagon does not begin complying voluntarily in the coming days." Nonetheless, Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas asserted in a statement, "Every two and half minutes an Air Force transport aircraft takes off or lands somewhere around the globe. As our aircrews serve on these international airlift missions, they follow strict guidelines on contracting for hotel accommodations and all expenditures of taxpayer dollars. “In this case, they made reservations through the Defense Travel System and used the closest available and least expensive accommodations to the airfield within the crews’ allowable hotel rates. While we are still reviewing the trip records, we have found nothing that falls outside the guidelines associated with selecting stopover airports on travel routes and hotel accommodations for crew rest."
He added however that "lodging at higher-end accommodations, even if within government rates, might be allowable but not advisable. Therefore, we are reviewing all associated guidance... Even when USAF aircrews follow all directives and guidance, we must still be considerate of perceptions of not being good stewards of taxpayer funds that might be created through the appearance of aircrew staying at such locations." In a separate interview, the deputy commander of the Air Mobility Command Lt. Gen. Jon Thomas affirmed, "What the chief is getting at is just because you can, we should also be asking ourselves the question about should. And the question there is, as our crews are following all guidelines and directives we also have to be sensitive to the possible perceptions that might be created on where they may stay." A worldwide review has thereby been instigated, wherein how the United States Air Force chooses overnight accommodations on long flights will be surveyed. Should the investigation reveal that the military was working in conjunction with President Trump to line his pockets, the review may have more lasting consequences than initially predicted.