Air Force to review international layovers after stays at Trump's luxury resort in Scotland revealed

Trump Turnberry lost $4.5 million in 2017, but revenue went up $3 million in 2018

Published September 9, 2019 1:53PM (EDT)

Donald Trump visits his Scottish golf course Turnberry (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Donald Trump visits his Scottish golf course Turnberry (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The U.S. Air Force has ordered a review of all international layover stays in the aftermath of a report that crew members stayed at President Donald Trump's luxury resort in Scotland at least twice in the past year, which raised ethics questions about whether the president has potentially profited from official government use of his private entities.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas, the branch's chief spokesman, said in a statement that leadership had instructed the service's Air Mobility Command to "review all guidance pertaining to selection of airports and lodging accommodations during international travels."

"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 aircrews staying at such locations," he said.

In a tweet Monday morning, Trump denied knowledge of the Air Force lodging at his property.

"I know nothing about an Air Force plane landing at an airport (which I do not own and have nothing to do with) near Turnberry Resort (which I do own) in Scotland, and filling up with fuel, with the crew staying overnight at Turnberry (they have good taste!)," he wrote, adding, "NOTHING TO DO WITH ME."

The statements from Thomas and Trump follow a weekend report from Politico that a U.S. Air Force C-17 crew had stayed at Trump's Turnberry resort in Scotland this spring during a refueling stop both en route to Kuwait and on the way back. The news outlet also reported that a unit of the Maine Air National Guard stayed at Trump Turnberry in September 2018 while on the way back to the U.S. from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

"While initial reviews indicate that aircrew transiting through Scotland adhered to all guidance and procedures, we understand that U.S. Service members lodging at higher-end accommodations, even if within government rates, might be allowable but not advisable," Thomas said.

Thomas also claimed that the increased use of Prestwick Airport, in Glasgow, Scotland, is "ideally suited along the route of flight to/from Europe and the Middle East" because of its large parking area, round-the-clock operations and "favorable weather" compared with nearby airports.

The Air Force's review comes as House Democrats have ramped up investigations of whether Trump has possibly improperly profited from government funds flowing into his properties, including Turnberry.

Earlier this year, the House Oversight and Reform Committee launched an investigation into why Prestwick Airport, which had been debt-ridden, has seen a substantial increase in U.S. military expenditures since Trump took office.

In a letter to the Department of Defense in June obtained by Politico, leaders of the Democratic-led panel said the airport "reportedly had provided 'cut-price rooms for select passengers and crew' and 'offered free rounds at Turnberry to visiting U.S. military and civilian air crews.'"

The president purchased the financially-struggling golf course on the west coast of Scotland in 2014, and he has never turned a profit on his investment.

Since October 2017, the military has spent $11 million on fuel at the Prestwick Airport, the closest airport to Trump Turnberry, according to the House Oversight Committee. Politico noted that the fuel would have been cheaper had it been purchased at a U.S. military base.

Since Trump did not divest from his private business interests after clinching the presidency in 2016, these reports raise questions about whether the military has helped keep Trump Turnberry afloat. The property had lost $4.5 million in 2017, but revenue went up $3 million in 2018.

Statistics provided Sunday by the Air Force revealed that the Air Mobility Command aircraft stopped at Prestwick a total of 936 times — 659 of those stops included overnight stays — between 2015 and 2019. While those statistics do not disclose which hotel was used during those overnight stops, but the number of overnight stays has steadily increased since Trump clinched the presidency. There were 40 in 2015, 75 in 2016, 116 in 2017, 208 in 2018 and 220 through August 2019.

The Air Force said it has "increasingly leveraged" Prestwick as a stopover location following a flight directive issued to mobility crews in June 2017, which it said was "designed to increase efficiencies by standardizing routing locations, with Prestwick being among the top five locations recommended for reasons such as more favorable weather than nearby Shannon Airport and less aircraft parking congestion than locations on the European continent."

The Air Force defended the stop in Glasgow on the way to Kuwait on Saturday and offered additional details about the trip, which took place from March 13 to March 19. It said that seven crew members stayed at the Trump resort on the way there but at a Marriott hotel on the way back. The room rate for the recent Scotland stays was $136 a night, cheaper than Marriott's government rate of $161 a night, the Air Force said.

The news of military stays in Trump's Scotland hotel comes just days after the House Oversight Committee announced that it had launched an investigation into whether Trump improperly benefited from Vice President Mike Pence's recent stay at a Trump golf resort while on an official government trip to Ireland funded by taxpayers.

Pence and his team spent two nights at the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Doonbeg, a small town on the country's southwest coast, even though it was located roughly 180 miles away from his meetings in the capital city of Dublin.

Trump also denied any knowledge of that decision in a tweet on Monday.

"I had nothing to do with the decision of our great @VP Mike Pence to stay overnight at one of the Trump owned resorts in Doonbeg, Ireland," Trump wrote. "Mike's family has lived in Doonbeg for many years, and he thought that during his very busy European visit, he would stop and see his family!"

Marc Short, the vice president's chief of staff, previously told reporters that although Trump had not directed Pence to stay at his resort, he suggested doing so.

The House Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, is investigating Trump's "apparent promotion" of the Trump National Doral Miami as a possible venue for next year's Group of Seven (G-7) summit.

Trump praised his 800-acre golf resort while in Biarritz, the French resort town that hosted this year's G-7 meeting.

By Shira Tarlo

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