Air Force reviewing layover guidelines amid scrutiny of stop at Trump property in Scotland
By JOHN WAGNER AND MISSY RYAN | The Washington Post | Published: September 9, 2019
WASHINGTON — The Air Force has launched a review of its selection of lodging accommodations amid heightened scrutiny of a decision to place a crew at the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland, which it acknowledged Sunday "might be allowable but not advisable."
In a statement, Brig. Gen. Edward Thomas Jr., an Air Force spokesman, said the service's leadership had asked the service's Air Mobility Command to examine rules regarding how Air Force personnel select destinations for overseas stopovers. He said there was no initial indication of wrongdoing during stopovers in Scotland.
"Even when [Air Force] 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," he said.
In a tweet Monday morning, President Donald Trump said he was unfamiliar with the Air Force lodging at his family's 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 statement from Thomas referred to the episode in March in which seven crew members flying on a transport plan from Kuwait to Alaska stayed at the Trump family-owned resort during a layover at the Glasgow Prestwick Airport, which is about 30 miles from Trump's resort and has been used with greater frequency during Trump's presidency.
"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 defended the increased use of Prestwick Airport, saying it is "ideally suited along the route of flight to/from Europe and the Middle East."
A fuel contract between Prestwick and the Defense Department was signed in 2016, under President Barack Obama.
Air Force data showed 259 stopovers at Prestwick in 2019, a dramatic increase from 95 in all of 2015.
Thomas said Prestwick had been increasingly selected as a layover site for flights to and from the Middle East because of its round-the-clock operations, large parking area and favorable weather compared with other nearby airports.
The review comes as House Democrats have stepped up scrutiny of whether Trump is improperly benefiting financially from government funds flowing to his family's properties, including Turnberry.
The House Oversight Committee is investigating why Prestwick, which had been financially struggling, has seen an uptick in expenditures by the U.S. military since Trump took office.
In a letter to the Defense Department in June, leaders of the Democratic-led committee said the airport "reportedly has provided 'cut-price rooms for select passengers and crew' and 'offered free rounds at Turnberry to visiting U.S. military and civilian air crews.' "
Trump purchased the cash-strapped golf course on the west coast of Scotland in 2014 and has never turned a profit on his investment.
A Trump Organization official told The Washington Post that the Turnberry resort hosts only "a small handful" sometimes less of U.S. military personnel who fly in to Prestwick every year. The resort charges them about $100 per night, said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal details of Turnberry's business.
The official said that the visits by U.S. military personnel are infrequent because for most of the year the hotel charges higher rates than Pentagon expense rules allow. All profits from this revenue are donated to the U.S. Treasury, the official said.
The official said that the Trump Organization is "agnostic" about this business: "If an airport references you as a nearby hotel, you don't know who showing up. Hotels don't pre-screen people prior to arrival based on occupation."
The Air Force on Saturday defended the stopover in Glasgow en route to Kuwait and provided additional details about that trip, which took place from March 13 to March 19.
The seven crew members stayed at the Trump property on the way there, but at a Marriott property on the way back, according to the Air Force.
The room rate for the recent Scotland stays was $136 a night, lower than the government rate of $161 a night, the Air Force said.
Service rules allow flight crews to stop off at civilian airports when military bases aren't suitable or available. When stopping over at civilian sites, military personnel then select lodging based on criteria including cost and availability of things such as blackout shades, which are needed for flight crew to rest during the day. Sometimes staying at such facilities requires a lengthy drive from the airport, Thomas said.
House Democrats are also investigating the use of other Trump properties.
The Oversight Committee announced last week that it had opened a probe into whether Trump improperly benefited from Vice President Pence's recent stay at a Trump golf resort while on a taxpayer-funded, official trip to Ireland.
Pence and his entourage spent two nights at the Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in Doonbeg, a small town on Ireland's southwest coast, and traveled in between to meetings with Irish leaders in Dublin, on the opposite side of the country.
Trump disavowed 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, Pence's chief of staff, previously told reporters that Trump had suggested the resort to Pence but did not direct him to say there.
The House Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, is investigating Trump's promotion of the Trump National Doral Miami as a possible venue to host the next gathering of world leaders known as the Group of Seven summit.
Trump touted the amenities and location of his resort while in Biarritz, the French resort town that hosted this year's G-7 meeting.
The Washington Post's Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.