President Donald Trump’s insistence on visiting his golf resorts likely cost taxpayers an extra $5.3 million at least for his recent Thanksgiving trip to Afghanistan because he began and ended his travel in Florida rather than Washington, according to a HuffPost analysis.
Trump’s 36-hour round trip to Bagram Air Base to visit the troops required two more planes than normally used for a U.S. president’s international travel. One cargo plane did nothing more than help secret Trump away from Mar-a-Lago, his for-profit Palm Beach club, which lies near two of his golf courses.
Then, the Air Force’s second modified 747, known as Air Force One when the president is aboard, was flown to a U.S. base in Germany, where it picked up Trump for the flight back to Florida while the first modified 747 was refueled and flown back to Washington.
The White House justified the use of the second 747 because it saved time and because the crew on the first plane needed rest, according to a pool report from the trip.
Ordinarily, the presidential 747 requires at least an hour to refuel. But Trump was able to leave Ramstein Air Base just 29 minutes after landing there on the first plane and riding the several hundred feet from one to the other in a 3-Series BMW. That allowed him to reach Palm Beach International Airport by 7 a.m. on Nov. 29, the day after Thanksgiving, and be at his golf course in West Palm Beach at 9:19 a.m.
The use of the cargo plane ― most likely a C-17, based on its speed and the ability of the car that carried Trump out of Mar-a-Lago to drive directly aboard ― and the second full-size Air Force One likely added $5.3 million to what the trip would have cost had Trump simply stayed in Washington for the holiday and left for Afghanistan from Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland.
“For a president who loves golf at his own clubs far more than he cares about policy or the public’s treasury, this is, unfortunately, not surprising,” said Robert Weissman, head of the liberal group Public Citizen. “What’s surprising, perhaps, is that Trump didn’t schedule a round of golf on his way back home.”
A senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said taking the Florida vacation was imperative to keep the planned trip a secret. “For security purposes, it was important that no changes were made to his usual annual routine, which is to travel to Florida for Thanksgiving with the family,” the official said.
The White House cooperated with news media after the trip to explain how it was kept a secret until minutes before Trump was airborne heading back from Afghanistan toward Germany ― including providing such details as how cellphones were confiscated from all passengers and how White House staff continued posting to Trump’s Twitter account to avoid raising suspicions. White House officials, however, declined to give details to HuffPost regarding the additional costs incurred.
HuffPost calculated those expenses using data contained in a Government Accountability Office report from a year ago examining Trump’s first four visits to Mar-a-Lago in early 2017.
Each vacation at Mar-a-Lago and his nearby golf courses ― there have been 26 visits to date ― costs taxpayers about $3.4 million in travel and security expenses. Because of the extra expenses related to the Florida start and endpoints for the Afghanistan trip, Trump’s decision to spend the bulk of his Thanksgiving holiday at Mar-a-Lago pushed the price tag of this particular Florida trip to at least $8.7 million and his grand total for golf-related travel and security expenses to $123.6 million.
Trump continues to profit from his resorts, despite his promises not to during his 2016 campaign, and he often dines with and interacts with paying customers, as he did Tuesday night at Mar-a-Lago’s New Year’s Eve party.
“We’ve arrived at a point where American taxpayers are subsidizing the president’s business because the president insists upon it. That is not the purpose of taxpayer dollars,” said Jordan Libowitz with the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Trump frequently criticized then-President Barack Obama for playing golf, yet he is on pace to spend as many days on a golf course in one term as Obama did over two and is costing the taxpayers three times as much in travel and security. Unlikely Obama, who played most of his golf at courses on military bases a short drive from the White House, Trump has spent nearly two-thirds of his golfing days at his own courses in Florida and New Jersey, which run up seven-figure costs involving Air Force and Marine planes and helicopters.
“He told us during the 2016 campaign that as president he’d be too busy to golf. He lied,” said former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh, who is now running against Trump for the 2020 GOP presidential nomination. “It’s all a con and he’s perfectly content to have the American taxpayer pick up the tab for his con.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article identified the car at the airport as a Mercedes. It was a BMW.