Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, flew to Canada for one of his regular visits to the Yukon mountains to hunt stone sheep with friends. He was accompanied by Secret Service agents on that August 2017 trip, just as he had been since his father was sworn in as president six months earlier.
The Secret Service frequented several Vancouver hotels: Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel, Pinnacle Hotel Vancouver Harbourfront and Lakeview Inn and Suites. But it spent the most money at the president’s hotel, the Trump International Hotel and Tower Vancouver, according to documents obtained by POLITICO.
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The Secret Service is required to protect the president’s children, but the tendency of Trump and his family to funnel funds to their own properties has complicated what had been a routine practice. Critics say the Trumps are using the presidency to boost the president’s businesses by forcing the federal government to spend taxpayer money at Trump properties.
Congress hasn’t launched a formal investigation into federal spending at Trump properties, but some House Democrats are eyeing it as a future area for congressional examination.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Oversight Committee, said lawmakers have focused on the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which forbids President Donald Trump from accepting gifts from foreign officials, even those who patronize his hotels. But Raskin said another clause in the Constitution is being flouted — one that bars Trump from receiving any money from the federal government aside from his annual salary. The president still profits from his properties despite leaving day-to-day management to his children.
“The presidency should not be a money-making operation,” Raskin said. “The president is directing his subordinates in the executive branch of government … to stay at Trump properties.”
In June, the House passed a spending bill that would bar the White House and other federal entities from doing business with Trump-affiliated establishments. Though it is not likely to pass the Senate, it does indicate House Democrats’ interest.
Other examples of the federal government spending money at Trump properties are known: The Secret Service spent $20,000 at the same Vancouver hotel in February 2017 when Donald Trump Jr., his brother Eric Trump and sister Tiffany Trump traveled to Canada for the hotel’s grand opening, according to documents obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group.
And Public Citizen, another watchdog group, reported in April 2018 that a variety of federal agencies, including the National Security Council and the General Services Administration, have spent money at Trump properties. At that time, the Secret Service had already spent $64,090 at Trump businesses since 2015.
But there’s no way to determine how much in total the administration is spending because no single entity tracks that money. Federal agencies, including the Secret Service, have disclosed some documents in response to public records requests.
The president frequents his properties — primarily in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia — visiting them on more than 250 days since he was sworn into office, according to a compilation of information released by the White House. Those visits, too, have led to the government spending money at his properties.
Revenue increased at many of the Trump developments the president visited last year, including the Vancouver hotel, which the family business manages and licenses, according to Trump’s most recent personal financial disclosure forms. Trump earned more than $213,946 from the Vancouver hotel in 2018, according to his financial disclosure.
The Secret Service spent a total of $16,600 on the August 2017 trip, including $5,700 at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, $8,500 at other hotels and $2,300 on undisclosed expenses, according to documents obtained by POLITICO.
The hunting trip came just before Trump Jr. temporarily gave up his Secret Service protection, according to a person close to him, who lives in New York City and is an executive of the Trump Organization. The agency is required to protect the president’s immediate family members unless told otherwise.
“If Don had his way, he would have no Secret Service protection at all,” the person said. “He actually tried to get rid of it but unfortunately he gets too many threats on a daily basis.”
The White House and Trump Organization didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The Secret Service has reported a strain on its budget during the Trump presidency in part because it is protecting such a larger number of people — 42 individuals during the Trump administration, including 18 family members, compared with 31 during the Obama administration.
The Secret Service declined to comment on any details of the Canada trip. “For operational security reasons, the Secret Service cannot discuss specifically nor in general terms the means, methods, resources, costs or numbers utilized to carry out our protective responsibilities,” said Melissa McKenzie, a Secret Service spokeswoman.
Trump refused to fully separate from his businesses after he was sworn into office despite repeated calls to do so. He still owns his businesses but placed his holdings in a trust designed to hold assets for his benefit and can receive money any time without the public’s knowledge.
Several House committees, controlled by Democrats, have pushed Trump to release his tax returns to learn more information about his businesses, but he has repeatedly refused to do so. The Trump Organization, a private company with more than 500 businesses, is not required to publicly release financial information.
“Not only did he not divest himself,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), a member of the House Oversight Committee who has called for more transparency from the president. “He has the power to steer business to those interests.”