A bombshell report out of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reveals that Donald Trump cost taxpayers a whopping $13.6 million early in his presidency, during just four trips to the Florida resort that he himself owns. The report, solicited by Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Gary Peters, as well as House Dems Elijah Cummings, and Jackie Speier, examines two specific buckets of spending on Trumpian travel during the first months of 2017.
You requested that we examine costs associated with the President’s four trips to the Mar-a-Lago property in Palm Beach, Florida between February 3, 2017 and March 5, 2017, and three international trips taken by Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump in January and February 2017.
Before we dig in, it’s worth mentioning that the report notes that some members of the President’s staff refused to turn in their expense reports, thus leaving the GAO with no choice but to make estimates.
Although we collected the major, unclassified travel-related costs that agencies incurred (hereafter referred to as costs), we did not collect travel costs for officials from the Executive Office of the President. Therefore, our totals represent an approximate amount spent for the four trips. We contacted White House Counsel’s Office in April 2017 and January 2018 to solicit information from the Executive Office of the President related to coordinating travel for the President and any costs associated with White House staff traveling with the President. As of January 2019, the White House had not responded to our requests for information.
The report gives us some important context as well. These costs fall into two main categories: operational costs and temporary duty costs. Operational are the big-ticket items, such as using Air Force One, or the price paid to rent out a bunch of hotel rooms to use as a command center. Temporary duty, among other things, “include those for transportation, lodging, meals and incidental expenses and other travel-related expenses for personnel” charged with the delightful task of keeping the Trumps safe.
The GAO estimates that, in just the four trips analyzed, totaling 15 days, about $10.6 million was spent on operating costs, and another $3.0 million went to temporary duty costs, for an approximate total of $13.6 million, or $906,666.66̅ per day.
What’s more, that figure doesn’t include classified expenses, or meals and other incidentals covered by “General Services Administration per diem rates, which is a daily payment instead of reimbursement for actual expenses.” Additionally, receipts are not required for reimbursement requests under $75.
That fun fact helps blur the total amount spent at Mar-a-Lago as well—otherwise known as Money The Government Spent On Trump That Benefits Trump. Surprisingly, the GAO estimates that number to be a mere $60,000—less than half of 1% of funds spent—with about $36K spent on conference room rentals, and the remainder spend on Department of Defense lodgings.
On the other hand, the costs to protect Eric Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. on three international trips were estimated by the GAO to total roughly $396,000.On the other hand, the costs to protect Eric Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. on three international trips were estimated by the GAO to total roughly $396,000.The report concludes by noting that of the three agencies required to submit documentation of expenses each fiscal year, only one has gotten it done.
For fiscal years 2015 through 2017 we found that, of the three agencies required to report costs incurred for protecting the President and others under the Presidential Protection Assistance Act, only the Coast Guard reported semiannually on costs under the Act. The Secret Service did not do so consistently, and DOD did not report any protection costs during this time frame.
The GAO made recommendations that both the Secret Service and the DOD get it together and get their expense reports in; both agencies concurred. Tellingly, the Department of State and Trump’s Executive Office offered no comment at all.
While presidents have always traveled on the taxpayer’s dollar [..] Trump’s travel is “unprecedented,” one expert says, because he’s repeatedly visiting his own privately owned commercial property at Mar-a-Lago.
“It’s just another example of his consistent efforts to exploit public office for private gain,” ethics expert Steve Schooner told NBC News. “He’s using his official office and the fact that people have to travel with him, meet him, and follow him to promote his commercial enterprise, in this case his privately owned club.”
Schooner, of course, is right. Just because the Secret Service isn’t renting out suites at Mar-a-Lago doesn’t mean others aren’t. And what of the increased brand recognition Mar-a-Lago now enjoys, as well as increased membership fees costing hundreds of thousands of dollars?
“This is a privately owned club that for all intents and purposes was just another golf property in Florida before, that almost now is something that Americans immediately recognize,” Schooner continued. “Imagine what you would have to pay to get that kind of brand recognition. That’s extraordinary.”
And what of the cost to the taxpayers of Palm Beach, Fla., home to Trump’s “Southern White House?”
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw told NBC that each day President Trump spends in Mar-a-Lago costs his department $60,000.
Despite his campaign trail vow that he “would not be a president who took vacations (or) takes time off,” Donald Trump has spent 84 days alone at Mar-a-Lago alone since his inauguration, counting this week’s galavanting with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
Daily costs, of course, can not be assumed based solely on the GAO report, but using it as a guide, Talking Points Memo estimates those 12 weeks in Palm Beach could have cost taxpayers as much as $77 million. And, TPM Cameron Joseph notes, that estimate doesn’t even include his 138 days spent at other Trump properties, mostly ones with golf courses.
Can you believe that,with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf.Worse than Carter
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2014
As always, there’s a Trump tweet for that.