The top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs has formally requested an independent investigation into the Air Force’s increased use of a commercial airport in Scotland and overnight stays at the Trump Turnberry resort.
“I am disturbed by the growing number of those in government willing to engage in questionable taxpayer funded travel to and lodging at properties owned by the president — properties from which President Trump can draw income at any time,” Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, who is also a member of the Armed Services Committee, wrote in a letter on Tuesday to Gary Fine, who is fulfilling the duties of the Pentagon inspector general.
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“The American people deserve an independent inquiry into the Air Force’s increasingly frequent visits to Prestwick Airport, as well as answers to how many of those visits involved stays at Trump Turnberry by military personnel,” Peters added in the letter, first obtained by POLITICO.
The Air Force is already conducting a review of its refueling and lodging practices following the revelations that Air Force personnel have been using the struggling Glasgow Prestwick Airport more frequently over the last several years to refuel and at least in several instances stayed at Trump’s seaside resort more than 30 miles away.
POLITICO, which was first to report the practice, also revealed that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been investigating the stopovers since April. Earlier Tuesday, the panel threatened to subpoena Pentagon officials if they failed to respond to a June 21 letter seeking documents on the use of the airport, including $11 million spent on fuel since 2017.
Accusations that Trump’s properties are unfairly profiting off of his administration have dogged the president since entering office. Ethics officials and lawmakers have raised concerns about foreign officials staying at Trump hotels, and noted that Trump supporters and industry groups regularly throw bashes at Trump-owned locations. Trump is also considering hosting next year’s Group of Seven gathering of world leaders at his Doral resort in Florida, a potential financial boon for the property, and has previously stayed at the Turnberry property.
The Air Force has said the stops are within Pentagon guidelines and noted that the Turnberry bookings, in some instances orchestrated by a local travel service, fall within acceptable rates for military travel. But the Air Force also conceded that the appearance of staying at the president’s property might create a negative perception.
Peters says he is particularly interested in learning how many times crews have been staying at the Trump property, when it is clear from the service’s own figures that Prestwick stops and overnights in the area have steadily gone up substantially since 2015.
That is something the Air Force says it is trying to determine.
“While our databases aren’t designed to provide a comprehensive snapshot of which hotels our Airmen stayed at, a scoped sampling indicates Air Force personnel have typically lodged at approximately 10 hotels near Prestwick Airport, including the Turnberry,” Col. Damien Pickart, the chief spokesperson for the Air Mobility Command, told POLITICO in a statement.
Another Air Force official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the task requires reviewing travel vouchers individually and estimated that it would require “hundreds of man-hours.”
Peters is eager to determine the frequency of military overnights at the golf resort.
“I am troubled that this information was not provided until news reports revealed the Air Force’s approvals of stays at Turnberry,” the senator added in his letter to the Pentagon inspector general. “ … I find it hard to believe the Air Force was capable of reporting the exact number of trips to Prestwick, but, according to the Deputy head of Air Mobility Command, the Air Force ‘could not report how many of these overnights may have been at Trump Turnberry.’”
Peters also insisted that the answers were important in order to put to rest any doubts that the Air Force is inappropriately enriching the president’s businesses.
“The armed forces are charged with the critical duty of defending our nation,” he wrote. “They protect our most important values and are charged with representing them as well. Potentially unnecessary spending by the military at a for-profit business owned by the President raises serious concerns about conflicts of interest and threatens the trust that the American people have placed in our military.”
The House and Senate are also considering a proposal passed by the House in July that would make it illegal for the Pentagon to spend taxpayer dollars at Trump-owned properties.