US Air Force Use of Trump Properties Under Congressional Scrutiny

President Donald Trump's Turnberry Luxury Collection Resort in Turnberry, Scotland. (Wikimedia Commons)

President Donald Trump's Turnberry Luxury Collection Resort in Turnberry, Scotland. (Wikimedia Commons)

In March, an Air National Guard crew made a routine stop in Scotland on a flight from the United States to Kuwait. However, the fact that the crew stayed at President Donald Trump’s Turnberry Resort in Scotland has drawn Congressional scrutiny and is now part of an investigation of U.S. military spending at Trump properties in Scotland.  The issue is taking center-stage in the nomination process of Barbara Barett to be the next secretary of the Air Force, but the Pentagon is reluctant to provide documents to Congress.

The House Oversight Committee has been probing the military’s expenditures at Turnberry and the surrounding properties since April. In a letter sent to the Pentagon, the Committee noted that the Air Force has spent $11 million on fuel at Prestwick Airport, the nearest airport to the Turnberry resort, since October 2017. The fuel would be cheaper if it were purchased at a U.S. military base, raising questions of whether President Trump is using the military to help his resorts turn a profit. 

In response to the inquiry, the Air Force released a statement that confirmed the stays were within cost limits but acknowledged that the practice “might be allowable but not advisable.” According to Politico, the initial trip was not an isolated incident—more than 60 service- members have stayed at the Turnberry resorts thus far, leading lawmakers to push for an amendment that would bar the Pentagon from spending money at Trump properties around the world. Two months after House Oversight requested more documents on the matter, the Pentagon responded by sending a 21-page document to the committee, which committee members called “belated” and “woefully inadequate.” 

The issue has also dogged Ambassador Barbara Barett, Trump’s nominee to head the Air Force. In her Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing, Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) pressed her to bar service members from staying at Trump properties in the future. Barett demurred, saying that she would implement “generic rules and regulations that look at the best value.” Unsatisfied with her response, Blumenthal blocked Barett’s confirmation from moving to a full Senate vote until she can assure Congress she will “implement a policy to prohibit Air Force spending at Trump-owned properties.” 

The acting Secretary of the Air Force launched a world-wide review of its guidelines on international layovers last week, as well as a separate inquiry into the Turnberry stays at the center of this dispute. 

Questions of whether President Trump is benefiting from his commercial interests have dogged his presidency. Democrats have repeatedly accused him of violating the Emolument Clause of the Constitution, which forbids the president from receiving any compensation from the federal government other than a salary. Although Trump maintains that he is no longer involved with the Trump Organization and has put his ownership interest into a trust, he can withdraw money from it any time.