Public office and private interests: Ambassador trip highlights tension between Donald Trump’s presidency and his Turnberry resort
The visit to Trump Turnberry by Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to the UK, may be one of the highest profile instances of a senior member of Donald Trump’s government frequenting his world-renowned Scottish property, but it is by no means the first trip to spark questions about the blurred line between the US president’s public office and private business.
From Mr Trump himself and members of his family, through to Secret Service agents and US Air Force personnel, the historic hotel and golf resort on the South Ayrshire coast has enjoyed a significant revenue stream from the US federal government in recent years.
The vast majority of the payments that are known about centre around Mr Trump’s private visit to Turnberry in July 2018 - the same time Mr Johnson and his wife stayed there.
As revealed by The Scotsman two years ago, US federal government spending records show payments worth more than £52,477 were made by the State Department to SLC Turnberry Limited, the company behind the South Ayrshire hotel and golf course
A report published in March by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the US Department of Homeland Security found that the Secret Service spent $9,662 (£7,500) at Mr Trump’s property during the 2018 visit, but the OIG said it “could not determine how much the resort gained in profits.” The Trump Organisation itself has said that it does not profit from US government custom at its properties
The report did not disclose the nightly hotel room rate the Secret Service paid at Mr Trump’s hotel, and the amount spent on meals and incidental expenses was redacted. But elsewhere, a breakdown showed $4,048 (£3,150) went on the rental of 19 golf cars, with Turnberry receiving $923 (£715). The Secret Service’s overall expenses for the trip totalled at least $953,261 (£741,000),
It is not just members of the Secret Service who have become acquainted with Turnberry’s period charms. US Air Force crews made more than 500 stopovers at Prestwick between January 2017 and August 2019, including 428 overnight stays - many of those, it turned out, were at Mr Trump’s property.
Indeed, the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the US Congress revealed last September that the Pentagon spent nearly $200,000 (£155,000) at Mr Trump’s hotel between August 2017 and July 2019 - the equivalent, it says, of more than 650 rooms, or “more than one room every night for more than one and a half years.”
Elsewhere, the State Department has made payments totaling more than $13,547 (£10,500) to Turnberry in connection with visits to the resort by Trump’s son, Eric, an executive-vice president of the Trump Organisation.
Turnberry has yet to turn a profit under Mr Trump’s ownership, and the most recent accounts filed with Companies House show that its parent firm ran up losses of more than £10.7m in 2018. Since Mr Trump added the venue to the Trump Organisation’s portfolio in 2014, it has lost nearly £43m.
The accounts also show that the property remains more reliant than ever on the president for its finances. It owes the 73-year-old £115m, money that he provided in the form of interest free loans.
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