Government watchdog to review Trump's use of Mar-a-Lago
By JONATHAN O'CONNELL | The Washington Post | Published: March 28, 2017
WASHINGTON — A government watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, has agreed to review the costs and security precautions associated with President Donald Trump's travel and stays at Mar-a-Lago after a request for inquiry from leading Democrats on Capitol Hill.
On 17 days of his presidency, Trump has spent at least part of his time at Mar-a-Lago, his club in Palm Beach, Fla., flying down five times on Air Force One and requiring protection from the Secret Service, the U.S. Coast Guard and local police forces while in Florida. The government has not disclosed the costs.
After Trump announced his third trip there last month, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., along with Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., wrote to GAO chief Gene L. Dodaro saying they were "deeply concerned" about the potential costs as well reports that Trump had met the Japanese Prime Minister in plain view of diners at the club.
The Democrats also questioned whether the president's company, which he still owns and which owns Mar-a-Lago, was charging the government "fair and appropriate" rates for use of the property while there at the service of the president.
On Friday the GAO agreed to take up the inquiry, by looking into four areas:
1) What measure are being used to protect classified information and provide secure communications capabilities while the president is away from the White House, and whether a secure communications space as been created at Mar-a-Lago.
2) The type of security screening the Secret Service employs for guests and visitors of Mar-a-Lago.
3) What measures the Secret Service and Defense Department have taken to ensure the fees they are charged for Mar-a-Lago trips are "fair and reasonable."
4) Whether the U.S. Treasury has received any payments resulting from profits at hotels that are owned or operated by the president.
The final two items relate to the president's company, the Trump Organization, from which Trump has resigned his positions but where he is still owner. Trump's adult sons, Eric and Don Jr., run the company and to avoid conflicts of interest the firm pledged recently to donate any profits from foreign companies to the U.S. Treasury at the end of each calendar year while Trump is president.
Trump has called Mar-a-Lago his "Winter White House," and White House press secretary Sean Spicer recently countered criticism of Trump's travel there.
"The president is very clear that he works seven days a week. This is where he goes to see his family. He brings people down there. This is part of being president," he said.
Though federal agencies have repeatedly declined to disclose the costs of the trips, in a previous report the GAO estimated that a similar trip Obama took to Florida cost about $3 million.
The Secret Service also requested $60 million extra for Trump-related costs and protection, according to internal agency documents, about half of that for security at Trump Tower, in New York, where First Lady Melania Trump and son Barron Trump live.
The Washington Post's Drew Harwell and Amy Brittain contributed.