Throughout his White House tenure, President Donald Trump and his family repeatedly directed taxpayer funds toward his hospitality business. But until now, we didn’t know just how bad it really was. By repeatedly charging the Secret Service as much as five times the allowable government rate to protect his family at Trump properties, Trump twisted the Secret Service’s protective mission into a personal cash cow — all while apparently lying about it to taxpayers.
Trump twisted the Secret Service’s protective mission into a personal cash cow — all while lying about it to taxpayers.
Back in May, my organization, CREW, got documents that showed the Secret Service had paid nearly $2 million to the business Trump refused to divest from when he became president. Even worse, we saw evidence that, again and again, when Trump’s family went to Washington, D.C., they had the Secret Service protect them at Trump International Hotel, forcing agents and supervisors to seek permission from the office of the agency’s chief financial officer to pay above the legal government rate for lodging. This even though there was no security reason requiring Team Trump to stay at that specific hotel.
But one thing was missing from our records: the room rates. In the documents turned over to us, the government redacted the General Services Administration's government rate for the room and what the hotel wished to charge the Secret Service. Thanks to this week’s release by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, we have those forms unredacted. And we see that, for example, on a night in November 2017, when the government rate set by the GSA for a hotel room in Washington was supposed to be capped at $201, the Trump hotel charged agents $1,185 per room for Donald Trump Jr.’s visit. When Eric Trump visited Washington a few months earlier, the nightly government rate was supposed to be capped at $242 per night; the Trump hotel billed the Secret Service $1,160.
It’s worth mentioning that the White House has guest rooms.
Of course, presidents and their families need to be protected by the Secret Service — protection that continues even after a president has left office. But we’ve never seen a commander-in-chief and his family repeatedly use the Secret Service to line their pockets in this way. There’s no reason the Trump family needed to stay at Trump properties. The stays became such a moneymaker for the Trump family that the Secret Service had to request a larger budget to cover all of its trips to Trump properties.
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In fact — and completely without a shred of evidence to show it was true — Trump kept using the Secret Service as an excuse to stay at his properties. You may remember Trump’s wanting to hold the 2020 G-7 summit at one of his Florida golf resorts. He claimed that it was at least partly on the Secret Service’s recommendation. Records we obtained suggested that wasn’t true. Trump also cashed in bigly by staying at his Las Vegas hotel as he traveled back and forth to the West Coast for events — again claiming it was on the Secret Service’s recommendation, and again providing no evidence to back up such assertions.
Now, you might be wondering why the Trump Organization didn’t just comp the Secret Service for the rooms if the Trumps wanted to stay at their properties so badly. Trump is ostensibly a billionaire, right? Well, according to son Eric Trump, the family did just that: “If my father travels, they stay at our properties for free,” he claimed at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit in 2019. “So everywhere that he goes, if he stays at one of his places, the government actually spends, meaning it saves a fortune, because if they were to go to a hotel across the street, they’d be charging them $500 a night, whereas, you know, we charge them, like, $50,” only for services like housekeeping.
It was an easily disprovable statement — if you had the documentation. And now, finally, we do. Now we know just how bad the situation really was. And just how much it cost the American taxpayer.
At the end of the day, nothing was stopping Trump’s hotels from doing exactly what Eric Trump said they did. Except greed. And the not inaccurate, albeit craven, belief that they could get away with it.