President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Air Force told senators at her confirmation hearing Thursday she wouldn’t specifically ban members of the military branch from spending taxpayer funds at the president’s properties.
During a tense exchange with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Barbara Barrett refused to tell the Senate Armed Services Committee whether she thinks it is inappropriate for Air Force personnel to spend government funds at Trump-owned businesses. A recent report from Politico detailed numerous instances in which air crews lodged at the president’s struggling Turnberry Resort in Scotland as they traveled from the U.S. to the Middle East.
“It seems that we should have generic rules and regulations that look to the best value and the best acquisition, and those rules should be enforced equally,” Barrett said. She added that such rules wouldn’t be “specific to any particular owner.”
When Blumenthal asked specifically about presidential self-dealing and pressed Barrett on the possibility Trump is violating the Constitution by the ways in which money is flowing to his properties, Barrett repeated her comment about the need for generic rules and regulations.
Barrett told Blumenthal she would comply with his request for a “complete accounting” of Air Force expenditures at Trump properties if she wins Senate confirmation to the branch’s top position.
In a Sept. 9 tweet, Trump denied having anything to do with members of the Air Force staying at his hotel in Scotland ― while adding that they had “good taste” in doing so.
The Air Force has since launched an investigation into how it chooses airports to land at and lodging accommodations during international travel.
Ethics watchdogs and Democrats in Congress have been sounding the alarm about Trump potentially using the presidency to enrich himself, given that he refused to divest himself of his business holdings upon taking office. Several reports have detailed instances in which foreign governments, U.S. companies and U.S. officials have spent money at Trump’s resorts since he became president.
The practice was spotlighted last month when Vice President Mike Pence stayed at the Trump resort Doonbeg, Ireland, while on a state visit to that country. The hotel is 180 miles from Dublin, where Pence’s meetings with Irish leaders took place.
Two lawsuits were filed charging that Trump has violated the Constitution’s “emoluments” clause, which prevents federal officeholders from accepting payments from foreign governments without congressional consent. One of those suits was dismissed in July by a federal appeals court panel.
Trump picked Barrett, a former aerospace executive and diplomat, to replace Heather Wilson, who resigned as the Air Force chief earlier this year to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso.