The U.S. Air Force has ordered a world-wide review of how it chooses overnight accommodations on long flights following revelations that air crews had occasionally stayed at President Donald Trump’s Scotland resort while refueling at a small commercial airport nearby.
The review comes as additional instances of military personnel staying at Trump properties have been uncovered. The C-17 crew’s overnight stay at Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland earlier this year, first reported by POLITICO on Friday, was not an isolated incident.
Story Continued Below
In September 2018, on its way back to the U.S. from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, a unit of the Maine Air National Guard landed at Prestwick Airport, the airport closest to Trump’s luxury waterfront resort. The crew and their passengers then spent the night at his hotel, according to one person who was present, an Instagram post and a voucher detailing the crew’s itinerary reviewed by POLITICO.
The Air Force did not immediately respond to questions about that September stay, but Air Force Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas, the chief spokesman, told POLITICO in a statement that “initial reviews indicate that aircrew transiting through Scotland adhered to all guidance and procedures.”
He acknowledged, however, that U.S. service members “lodging at higher-end accommodations, even if within government rates, might be allowable but not advisable. Therefore, we are reviewing all associated guidance.”
He added: “Even when USAF 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.”
In a separate interview on Sunday, the deputy commander of the Air Mobility Command, which oversees all Air Force transportation worldwide, said the review is intended to make sure that personnel are following all the rules but also whether staying at the commander-in-chief’s property is appropriate.
“What the chief is getting at is just because you can, we should also be asking ourselves the question about should,” said Lt. Gen. Jon Thomas. “And the question there is, as our crews are following all guidance and directives we also have to be sensitive to the possible perceptions that might be created on where they may stay.”
The review, ordered by Acting Air Force Secretary Matthew Donovan and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, covers the active-duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.
POLITICO on Friday first reported that the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee launched a probe of the Scotland operations in April out of concern that the use by the military of the Trump property and the nearby airport could pose a conflict of interest for the president — and to determine whether the Pentagon is helping to boost the fortunes of the struggling Trump’s Scottish golf resort.
That includes a stopover in March of this year in which a seven-person crew of a C-17 cargo plane from the Alaska Air National Guard en route to Kuwait stayed at the plush resort. At least one member of the crew was frustrated that the food and drink was over his government allowance, even though the Air Force has said the nightly rate was less expensive than other potential options closer to the airport.
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 on Sunday insisted, however, that the use of the Prestwick airport — which it said dates back to 2015 — along with the Trump hotel appears to have adhered to proper procedures.
“The availability of civil airfields like Prestwick is essential to ensuring that USAF aircraft can sustain the necessary speed and throughput required to accomplish our mission,” the service said in a fact sheet. They added that Prestwick “has a large parking area, is open 24/7/365, and has been contracted by DOD for fuel at standardized prices.”
The Air Force also said the the decision to stay at the Trump resort would have been the result of “a multitude of factors,” including the lack of suitable lodging closer to the civil airport or at a nearby military base. It did not provide evidence that nearby hotels were cheaper or unavailable at the time of the crews’ stays, however.
The Air Force’s use of the Prestwick airport has also steadily grown. Indeed, the use of the facility has nearly tripled — and overnights in the area increased more than five-fold, the Air Force acknowledged Sunday.
From 2015 to 2019, they said, Air Mobility Command aircraft stopped at the civil airport 936 times. Of those, crews stayed overnight in the area 659 times.
The frequency of the stops and overnight stays has increased steadily each year, from 95 stops and 40 overnights in 2015; 145 and 75 in 2016; 180 and 116 in 2017; 257 and 208 in 2018; and 259 stops and 220 overnights through August 2019.
Lt. Gen. Jon Thomas, the deputy head of Air Mobility Command, said he could not report how many of these overnights may have been at Trump Turnberry.
Officials insist there has been no evidence uncovered of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the implication that the military is enriching the president is damaging and the service appears eager to quickly assess whether the practice should continue.
“The Air Force takes this very seriously,” Thomas told POLITICO. “The trust and confidence of the American people and Congress is critically important.”