Donald Trump's Scottish resorts have been paid around £250,000 by his government - but the bill could be higher
It was perhaps Donald Trump’s former chief of staff who put it best when asked about the tensions between his public office and his private business. “At the end of the day,” said Mick Mulvaney, “he still considers himself to be in the hospitality business.”
His remarks focused on the US president’s proposal to host the G7 summit at his Doral resort in Florida. The backlash to the idea ensured it was short-lived, but it raised questions that have been all too familiar here in Scotland these past four years - how has the Trump presidency benefited the Trump Organisation?
On one hand, there is an argument that while the profile of Mr Trump’s resorts here have never been higher, that is not necessarily a good thing for the 73-year-old’s balance sheet, given the opprobrium with which he and his administration have been met.
On the other, an extensive trail of procurement records shows that Mr Trump’s Scottish interests, like those in the US, have received handsome sums from his own government.
Past reporting by The Scotsman and analysis of US federal spending receipts suggests that, during his term in office, Mr Trump’s Turnberry resort alone has received around a quarter of a million pounds, although the true figure could be higher.
The lion’s share of that came from the US Defence Department, which spent at least $184,000 (£142,000) on rooms at Turnberry for military personnel passing through the nearby Glasgow Prestwick Airport - a state-owned hub which has received nearly £25m from the Pentagon in the past three years.
Mr Trump’s private visit to the resort in July 2018, meanwhile, during which he played two rounds of golf, cost US taxpayers more than £52,000, with the money paid by the US State Department to the property’s parent company, SLC Turnberry Limited. The Secret Service spent an additional $9,662 (£7,460) at Turnberry to cover the same trip, a bill which included $923 (£712) to rent golf carts.
Visits to the South Ayrshire hotel and golf course by other members of the Trump family, chiefly his second son, Eric, helped push up the bill. The State Department has paid at least $13,547 (£10,460) to Turnberry to cover trips by the executive vice-president of his father’s firm.
So too, the Secret Service has accompanied members of the first family on their business and leisure trips to Scotland - with the US public picking up the bill.
As revealed in recent weeks by The Washington Post, when Eric took dozens of members of his father’s North Carolina course on a whistlestop tour of his Scottish bolthole last year, the Secret Service was charged around $3,800 (£2,933) for rooms at the Aberdeenshire resort, and then $8,500 (£6,562) for rooms at Turnberry.
However, the payments covering Eric’s stays at the Trump Organisation’s Scottish resorts do not appear to tally with the frequency of his visits. According to sources at Turnberry, he has been there on around a dozen separate occasions since his father entered public office, and has visited the Aberdeenshire property together with his brother, Donald Jr.
Perhaps only time will tell what the total bill is. One of the frustrations for transparency campaigners and journalists has been the slow drip feed of spending information from the US government. For example. The Scotsman is still waiting on a response to a freedom of information request about Department of Homeland Security spending at Turnberry. It was submitted in August 2017.
In the US, both the Washington Post and American Oversight, a non-partisan ethics watchdog, have had to sue the Trump administration in order to try and obtain records held by the US State Department and other departments.
Whatever the sums involved, one thing is abundantly clear. Mr Trump’s Scottish companies remain mired in red, despite receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds in US taxpayers’ money.
Turnberry has yet to turn a profit under Mr Trump’s ownership. Indeed, the property has incurred losses of nearly £43m since he bought it in 2014, and owes £115m to the Donald J Trump Revocable Trust, a New York state grantor trust which forms part of the president’s near-impenetrable network of corporate entities.
Trump Scotland, which has also never made a profit, has run up losses of more than £9.4m. It owes £40.6m to Mr Trump personally, and almost £2.5m to an LLC called DJT Holdings.
A key question is what the future holds for the resorts, depending on what US voters decide this week.
Last year, Sarah Malone, the Trump Organisation most senior executive in the UK, told an audience that the Trump family was frustrated at being unable to pursue “foreign investments” and overseas business opportunities while Mr Trump was president,
In recent years, it has instead focused on enlarging its existing Scottish footprints. As revealed this summer by The Scotsman, the Trump Organisation and its architects have drawn up plans for a major expansion of Turnberry. A detailed masterplan proposes as many as 225 properties in a “world class coastal retreat” on farmland owned by Mr Trump. However, no planning application has been brought forward as yet.
In Aberdeenshire, it has been more than a year since plans were approved for the Trump Estate, a village-style development of 550 houses, as well as shops and leisure facilities.
Asked by The Scotsman if building work had started, or whether there was a timescale for when the first phase of the development would be completed, Aberdein Considine, the scheme’s marketing agents, referred the enquiry to Trump Scotland. It has not responded.
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