Air Force crews have stayed overnight at President Donald Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland on at least four occasions, two more than previously reported.
The four trips — uncovered through interviews with people present, records of expenditures and social media postings — date back to at least September 2018 and continued through at least this past June. They include at least one instance in which a crew member said a nearby airport arranged for rides and lunches to and from the luxury waterside retreat. All the flights were shuttling crews between the United States and the Middle East, and at least three of them of them were divisions of the Air National Guard. In total, over 60 service members stayed at the posh property on these stopovers.
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Now, with Congress returning from an extended August break, Democrats want to make sure these Air Force crews never again stay at a Trump Turnberry. On Monday, lawmakers began stumping for the Senate to adopt an amendment that would bar the Pentagon from spending money at nearly five dozen Trump properties worldwide. The House passed the clause in July as part of the broader annual defense policy bill, but it has not yet been adopted into law.
“As alarming details emerge about U.S. Air Force crews staying at the President’s luxury golf resort in Scotland, it has become even more important that Congress include this language in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), one of the sponsors of the proposal.
The push to outlaw the practice will join a growing list of conflict-of-interest concerns that Democrats want to highlight in the coming months as House leaders decide whether to begin formal impeachment proceedings against the president. The overnight stops at Turnberry have already sparked a broader House Oversight Committee investigation of military spending at and around Trump properties. The Air Force over the weekend also launched a worldwide review of how it chooses lodging on overnight layovers. A legislative battle could be next.
“The president has already shown a willingness to violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause, and Congress has a duty to use every tool we can to stop him,” Beyer said, referring to the provision that prohibits the president from receiving any compensation from the federal government other than a salary.
The Air Force has said the stops are within Pentagon guidelines and noted that the Turnberry bookings fall within acceptable rates for military travel. But the service also conceded that the appearance of staying at the president’s property might create a negative perception.
Trump, for his part, proclaimed no knowledge of the stays in a Monday morning tweet.
“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!). NOTHING TO DO WITH ME,” he wrote.
The Turnberry Air Force stays date back to at least September 2018.
That month, a unit of the Maine Air National Guard landed at Prestwick Airport — stationed about 20 miles from Turnberry — on its way back to the U.S. from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The crew — members of the 101st Air Refueling Wing — and their passengers then spent the night at Trump’s hotel, according to one person who was present and a voucher detailing the crew’s itinerary reviewed by POLITICO.
In total, at least a dozen Air Force members stayed at Turnberry that night, this person recalled.
What was “also odd,” the person said, was that Prestwick Airport went above and beyond for the service members — the airport booked the rooms at Turnberry, coordinated free rides to and from the resort, and even packed the crew lunches for the day they departed.
A spokesman for the airport did not dispute that recollection.
“Like all airports, we provide a full handling service for customers and routinely arrange overnight accommodation for visiting aircrew when requested,” the spokesman told POLITICO. “We use over a dozen local hotels, including Trump Turnberry, which accounts for a small percentage of the total hotel bookings we make.”
The spokesman further noted that the airport does not pay for crew accommodation and takes no commission from Turnberry for any bookings they make on behalf of the Air Force. He denied offering air crews free rounds of golf at the resort, rebutting aspects of a Guardian report from early 2018.
The stays didn’t end there.
Also in September 2018, the Iowa Air National Guard, en route back to the U.S. from an official visit to Kosovo in a KC-135 plane, stopped to refuel in Scotland, according to a person familiar with the matter and a spokesperson for the Iowa National Guard.
The 185th air refueling wing out of Sioux City, Iowa, which was making the trip, had about 35 to 40 soldiers and airmen that needed lodging, and they ultimately stayed at Turnberry. According to the spokesperson, the crew doubled up in rooms and were provided transportation to and from Prestwick.
The Prestwick stop was due to fuel “limitations” on the flight out Kosovo, the spokesperson said. And the overnight stay at Turnberry was arranged through the Defense Travel System — essentially the Pentagon’s in-house travel agent — and “directed by a higher echelon … based on mission and operational requirements.”
Then, in March of this year, the 176th maintenance squadron — an Air National Guard unit based in Alaska — lodged at Trump’s Turnberry resort en route to Kuwait to deliver supplies. That stopover was the initial revelation of the practice, which POLITICO first reported on Friday.
Finally, in late June of this year, an air crew and its passengers en route to Iraq arrived at Turnberry by the busload, according to a person who was there and an Instagram post by an Air Force crew member.
The Air Force said it could not immediately confirm the additional Turnberry stops or why the accommodations were selected over other potential lodging in the area. But it noted over the weekend that the March Turnberry stop fell within Pentagon guidelines, with comparable or cheaper rates than other nearby hotels. Still, the Air Force review of these choices will assess the “guidance associated with the use of civil airports and lodging selection for aircrew at en route locations,” according to a formal memo issued Monday.
The memo sets out a 30-day timeline to offer “recommendations for any proposed adjustments and process changes.”
If the Democrats have their way, though, the Pentagon may not even have the choice to stay at Trump properties in the future.
The provision that the House adopted in July would block the Pentagon from spending money at 57 specific Trump properties. Under the provision, Trump could waive the ban if he reimburses the Treasury Department for the expenses.
The language, which passed by a 223-205 vote, was included in the House’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act.
The Democratic leaders of the House Armed Services Committee and their Republican counterparts in the Senate are aiming to hammer out a compromise defense bill later this month. It’s unclear whether the language will make it into the final bill, although Republicans have blasted the proposal as impractical and a partisan stunt meant to embarrass Trump.
The stays at Turnberry come as the Air Forces use of Prestwick has steadily grown in recent years. Stops at the facility have nearly tripled since 2015, and overnights in the area have increased more than five-fold in that same time, the Air Force said on 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 service has not said how many of those overnight stays were at Turnberry.
The frequency of both stops at Prestwick and overnight stays in the area have increased each year since 2015. Through August of this year, the Air Force had stopped 259 times at Prestwick, and lodged around the airport 220 times.
Bryan Bender contributed to this report.