Inside the Military’s Five-Star Layovers at a Trump Resort

TURNBERRY, Scotland — The middle-aged golfers had finished their last single-malt whiskies late one night this July, and the bartenders were closing up.

Then a bus pulled up to the Trump Turnberry hotel on Scotland’s west coast with a load of new guests, several staff members said. The doormen, dressed in kilts with long feathers protruding from their berets, ushered in more than 50 uniformed American military service members.

After gawking at a fountain encircled by stone horses and classical statues, the troops piled their duffel bags around the table of orchids under the crystal chandeliers of the wood-paneled lobby, checked into their rooms and headed to the bar to begin ordering some whisky of their own.

Throughout President Trump’s term, officials said this week, the American military has been paying his money-losing Scottish golf resort to provide five-star accommodations to United States military flight crews and other personnel during refueling stops on trips to and from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and other locations.

The chairman of the House Oversight committee has questioned if the spending at Turnberry is a violation of a constitutional prohibition on government payments to the president outside of his salary — a provision known as the emoluments clause. Other House Democrats have said they expect the matter will now figurein their investigation of a possible impeachment.

But an examination of military layovers at Turnberry, including a two-day stay by a reporter at the resort, reveals a more complicated picture.

There is little evidence of a systematic scheme to enrich Mr. Trump. But the military bookings at Turnberry are the latest in a series of episodes in which the president’s private businesses have intersected with his public position in ways that he can profit from.

The pattern also raises questions about how military officials failed to anticipate the questions that would accompany a large number of American military personnel marching into the opulent halls of one of the president’s golf resorts at public expense.

Mr. Trump’s defenders note that American military jets have been stopping in the region since long before Mr. Trump’s election. A decision by the Pentagon to have its flights stop more frequently at the local airport was made under the Obama administration.

The military says the vast majority of American military personnel who have passed through since 2016 have stayed at other area hotels, not Mr. Trump’s. On Thursday, the Air Force said in a statement that it had found 659 instances when its flight crews stayed overnight in the area in the past four years. Of those stays, the Air Force estimated that 6 percent, or about 40 — far more than had previously been identified publicly — went to Mr. Trump’s property. Trump Turnberry was closed for renovations from 2015 until mid-2016.

Those who did stay there paid a discounted rate of as little as $130 a night, compared to a typical price of about $380 a night.

“To me, it was honestly just a hotel, a place to sleep,” said Nathan Wendzel, 33, a helicopter pilot, who spent a night at the Trump Turnberry last September, along with about 35 other members of his Iowa National Guard unit, on their way back to the United States from a trip to Kosovo. “It is better than a tent with no air conditioning.”

Neither Mr. Trump’s company nor the United States military has disclosed how much government money has been spent at the Trump resort. But a dozen Trump Turnberry staff members, all speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the military stays have been a regular occurrence and, often, encompass surprisingly large groups.

Article URL : https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/12/us/politics/trump-turnberry-military.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

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