Corruption

Trump's nasty business with the Secret Service

In Bedminster this spring, the records show, Trump’s club charged the Secret Service more than $21,800 to rent a cottage and other rooms while the club was closed and otherwise off-limits to guests

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INVESTIGATIVE PRESS GROUP

President Trump’s luxury properties have charged the U.S. government more than $1.1 million in private transactions since Trump took office — including for room rentals at his Bedminster, N.J., club this spring while it was closed for the coronavirus pandemic, new documents show.

The documents, including receipts and invoices from Trump’s businesses, were released by the Secret Service after The Washington Post filed a public-records lawsuit. They added $188,000 in previously unknown charges to The Post’s running total of payments to Trump’s properties related to the presence of Secret Service agents.

In Bedminster this spring, the records show, Trump’s club charged the Secret Service more than $21,800 to rent a cottage and other rooms while the club was closed and otherwise off-limits to guests. The documents don’t give a reason for these rentals. Trump didn’t visit the club while it was closed, but his eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her family reportedly visited at least once.

The family visited the club in April to celebrate Passover, a period that overlaps with several of the largest Secret Service charges. At the time, both the District of Columbia — where Ivanka Trump lives — and New Jersey had imposed “stay-at-home” orders, telling residents to avoid travel except under limited circumstances.

A spokeswoman for Ivanka Trump declined to comment. The Passover visit was first reported by the New York Times.

The Secret Service does not appear to have violated any New Jersey virus restrictions by renting the rooms or visiting Bedminster. Restrictions by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) explicitly exempted federal employees.

The receipts and invoices shed new light on the unprecedented relationship Trump has with his own government — where Trump’s presidential travel brings a stream of public money to the private businesses that the president still owns.

When Trump and his family members visit Trump properties, aides and Secret Service agents follow. When those federal employees rent rooms, Trump’s businesses get the revenue. Taxpayers foot the bill.

The bills are usually paid in private, with no public disclosure. The government has not disclosed how much it has paid the Trump Organization in total. Instead, The Post has tried to create an accounting of these payments, one receipt at a time, using public-records requests and lawsuits.

“The waste inherent in this is appalling,” Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president at the watchdog group Public Citizen, said of the Trump Organization’s charges. Gilbert said the costs were especially galling during a pandemic that has brought economic ruin and stretched federal budgets. “They’re nickel-and-diming the American people. At a moment when every penny counts.”

The White House and the Secret Service both declined to comment for this story. The Trump Organization did not respond to emailed questions.

Before he took office, Trump said he would be “completely isolating” himself from his business interests. He didn’t. Instead, Trump has visited his properties 274 times, according to a Post tally, in addition to promoting those properties on Twitter, encouraging his vice president visit them and briefly choosing one of them to host a summit of world leaders.

Last year, Trump’s son Eric — who is said to run the Trump Organization day-to-day — sought to tamp down concerns about these payments by saying that his company was charging the government only nominal fees.

When federal officials accompanied his father, Eric Trump told Yahoo Finance, the company charged them only “like 50 bucks” per room.

The Post has found no evidence to support that claim.

Instead, government documents show that the Trump Organization has charged as much as $650 per night, and sometimes tacked on additional charges beyond the room rate.

Agents guarding Vice President Pence were charged $29-per-night “resort fees” at Trump’s hotel in Las Vegas. In Scotland, Trump’s Turnberry resort once charged the Secret Service $1,300 to move furniture, according to a receipt from July 2018 that was released by the government this year.

The new batch of documents consists of invoices and receipts from a single Trump property, the Bedminster club.

The records show that Trump Bedminster charged the Secret Service $17,000 a month — or $567 per night — to rent the three-bedroom “Sarazen Cottage” near Trump’s own villa. That rate charged is unusually high for a rental home in the area, according to an analysis of local real estate listings.

The Post had obtained records of Secret Service rentals at Bedminster previously. But the new documents show that the rentals lasted much longer than previously known. Instead of lasting only for the summer months, when Trump usually visited, the rentals stretched from May to the end of October, the new documents show.

One former Trump administration official said the Secret Service had chosen to rent for six months at a stretch because Trump himself did not announce his travel schedule far in advance. If he suddenly decided to go to Bedminster in May, the service wanted to be ready. There are few hotels near the club, the former official said, so it was vital to have a space available for agents and equipment.

“We always had space reserved at Bedminster weeks before the president arrived, just in case,” said this official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly. “If he came in the Oval on, let’s say, on a Wednesday and said, ‘I want to go this weekend,’ you have to be ready.”

But, often, he didn’t. The result was that the Secret Service paid rent in Bedminster for more than 200 days when Trump was not there. The Post has documented a similar dynamic at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida: Trump’s unpredictable travel choices led agents to rent rooms for weeks in advance, in case the president decided to visit.

The result was a double benefit for Trump’s businesses: They got paid when he visited — and, often, when he didn’t.

But this spring marked the first known instance of a Trump club billing the government while it was closed.

The Bedminster club temporarily closed down operations on March 17, after Murphy imposed new restrictions on businesses and social gatherings because of the pandemic.

“Our goal is to minimize exposure and the amount of people on property,” Bedminster’s general manager, David Schutzenhofer, wrote to club members in an email that day. Staff offices would remain open, Schutzenhofer said, but employees were encouraged to work from home.

On that same day, Schutzenhofer signed a contract allowing the Secret Service to rent the club’s Sarazen Cottage — named for golf legend Gene Sarazen — for the next 13 nights. When that contract expired, the Secret Service signed another for 16 more nights, until April 15, according to copies of the contracts released by the Secret Service.

The Secret Service was charged the same rate as always: $567 per night, receipts show.

Through April, the club remained shuttered. But the charges continued. In fact, on some nights the Secret Service appears to have been charged for even more rooms than usual — not just the Sarazen Cottage, but one or two additional rooms as well. The rates for the extra suites ranged from $142 to $283 per night, according to the documents.

The documents do not say why the Secret Service needed rooms in Bedminster for so many nights — or why, on some nights, it needed more than usual.

Schutzenhofer, the club’s general manager, did not respond to questions about the charges.

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