The Trump swamp gets murkier every day
My Salon column this morning:
So President Trump had a normal weekend. He tweeted repeatedly about his mistake telling Alabama they were in the path of Hurricane Dorian, insisting that it wasn't a mistake at all. The controversy grew into something quite serious when it became obvious that he was ordering a Rear Admiral for fall on his sword and take responsibility and have political appointees at NOAA say his lie was actually the truth. Orwell has been mentioned. A lot.
Then the president had an angry twitter tantrum on Saturday night announcing that he was canceling a secret meeting scheduled for Sunday morning with the Taliban at Camp David.
According to this tick-tock in the NY Times he had decided to inject himself into the later stages of the negotiation with this Camp David gambit but it was upended by his egomaniacal desire to one-up Jimmy Carter and get credit for a big peace deal without having the first clue what he was doing or understanding the stakes. One of the parties he was for his photo-op was anathema to the Taliban so they balked and then the whole thing fell apart supposedly when Trump suddenly realized that the Taliban was still killing people. Nobody can quite figure out why he tweeted it out. One gets the feeling that he doesn't know why he did it either.
Those two stories dominated the news this weekend, but there was another brewing that will, if the Democrats do what they say they're going to do, come into focus starting this week. The committees are reconvening and there has been some new reporting that indicates they have more information about Trump's corruption than has been made public.
A couple of weeks ago I wondered if President Trump wasn't hedging his bets a little bit on 2020 by accelerating the usual promotional activities for his properties. On some level he must know that he's vulnerable sees that his window using his power to benefit himself may be closing. But the last week we've received even more evidence that he's been quite successful at dipping his beak ever since he became president.
Last Friday Politico reported that the House has been investigating a strange incident in which the Air Force made an unusual stop at a small government-owned airport in Scotland for refueling that just happened to be next to Trump's failing golf course in Turnberry. The crew was quite befuddled at their order to stop there and even more so when they ended up at Trump's pricey club, feeling out of place and without even having enough per diem money to buy food and drink. It was, to say the least, unexpected.
The reporting shows that many millions of dollars were spent since 2017 at this odd, out-of-the way little airport and more than just those airmen were shuttled to Turnberry to put government money in Trump's pocket. The Guardian reported that that the airport gives complimentary rounds of golf and rooms at a discount to some of the military member who stay at Turnberry, which indicates it's a thing.
It would be highly unlikely that Trump would have given an order to do this. As Mike Pence's spokesman said when the VP was criticized for staying at Turnberry on his recent trip to Ireland, he just "suggests" it. More likely people just know that pleasing the president by putting money in his pocket is smart politics. He does love money.
It may be that this is not technically illegal. But it certainly appears to be massively unethical, especially if what the Guardian reports about the Scottish government involvement turns out to be true:
An investigation by the Guardian has revealed Glasgow Prestwick airport is a base for live missions by the US Air Force, while its executives have highlighted its close relations with President Trump’s nearby resort at Turnberry to promote its bid to become a spaceport backed by the US government.
The Scottish government knew all about this, apparently, during the period Trump was running as well as since he's been president. If anyone still cared about the constitution, that emoluments clause would quite clearly be in play here. From the looks of it, that clause is only in effect for presidents who take bags of cash in a paper bag from a foreign potentate. Other than that it is no longer operative and presidents are now allowed to take as much money as foreign governments can flow into the businesses they refused to divest when they became president. If he isn't already a businessman, the next Republican president will have to set up some pass-through corporations so that he too can legally receive bribes from foreign governments.
Politico reported on Sunday that the Air Force was conducting a full review of the process after "additional instances of military personnel staying at Trump properties have been uncovered." But Air Force personnel aren't the only ones putting taxpayer money into Donald Trump's Turnberry coffers. The Statesman reported in 2018 that the State Department had paid for staffers to stay at the resort and the family members' Secret Service details routinely spend tens of thousands at the family hotels when their charges travel, Turnberry included.
But that's nothing compared to the money that Republican officials foreign dignitaries and fans spend at the Trump hotels, the profits from which go directly into the president's pockets. Nobody knows exactly how much money is being spent, but it's in the tens of millions. The New York Times reported over the weekend:
Since Mr. Trump became president, there have been thousands of visits to his properties, not only by Mr. Trump himself, but by foreign leaders, lobbyists, Republican candidates, members of Congress, cabinet members and others with ties to the president. At least 90 members of Congress, 250 Trump administration officials and more than 110 foreign officials have been spotted at Trump properties since 2017, according to social media posts and counts by various watchdog groups.
That is undoubtedly a low estimate. And nobody knows how much money has really been spent. Some are looking for favors, some probably just want to be seen and some simply want to give the president money because they love him so much:
“President Trump has really been on the side of the evangelicals and we want to do everything we can to make him successful,” said Sharon Bolan Yerby, an evangelical minister from Dallas, who had dinner at the hotel last fall, and then headed over to the White House the next day for a “faith briefing” of religious leaders. “And if that means having dinner or staying in his hotel, we are going to do so.”
This is corruption in plain sight by Republicans, lobbyists, foreign dignitaries and supporters. Trump excuses it by saying that People just like his "product" and anyway, he's actually lost 3-5 million on this president deal. How can anyone object if he makes a few measly million from people who appreciate his greatness?