WASHINGTON — United States military personnel stayed at the Trump Turnberry golf resort in Scotland in March when an Air Force plane stopped at a nearby airport to refuel on the way to Kuwait from the United States, an Air Force spokesman and a Trump Organization representative confirmed Saturday, while defending the decision as a routine matter.
Questions about the overnight stays at the Trump golf resort emerged after House investigators wrote to the department in June to ask about the surge in military stopovers at the obscure Glasgow Prestwick Airport, which is 23 miles from the Trump property.
Federal contract documents show that the Defense Department signed an agreement with the Prestwick airport to serve as a refueling location for military flights in August 2016, during the final months of the Obama administration. It could not be determined on Saturday if the department had contracts with the airport before then.
The records also show that the first payments under this contract started in early October 2017 and that a total of 917 payments for “liquid petroleum” have since been made at a total cost of $17.2 million. It is unclear how many stopovers this represents, as multiple payments were often made on the same day.
In June, Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, wrote to the Pentagon asking if the refueling stops might be part of a politically motivated effort to help keep the struggling Prestwick airport open, and to help drive sales at Trump Turnberry.
“The airport closest to the Trump Turnberry golf course — Glasgow Prestwick Airport — has been viewed as integral to the golf course’s financial success, yet it too has lost millions of dollars every year since its purchase by the Scottish government in 2013,” Mr. Cummings’s letter said. “Given the president’s continued financial stake in his Scotland golf courses, these reports raise questions.”
Mr. Trump himself has helped bolster the profile of the Turnberry resort, visiting the property in June 2018 and during his presidential campaign in 2016. Mr. Trump has claimed to have spent about $264 million since 2014 to buy and renovate the property — a figure that has not been verified independently.
There are more than two dozen hotels, guesthouses and inns just a few miles from the Prestwick airport, most of them much less expensive than the full advertised rate at Trump Turnberry, where rooms this time of year typically sell for about $380 a night.
But Brig. Gen. Edward W. Thomas Jr., the Air Force spokesman, said in a statement that the choice of the Trump resort came after the crew “made reservations through the Defense Travel System and used the closest available and least expensive accommodations to the airfield within the crews’ allowable hotel rates.” He added that “the Trump property ($136) was less expensive than the Marriott property ($161) and both were under,” the maximum allowable spending amount, which is $166.
The decision to use the Prestwick airport was “nothing that falls outside the guidelines,” he said.
“The stopover of a U.S. Air Force C-17 in Glasgow, Scotland, is not unusual,” he said in the statement. “Every two and half minutes an Air Force transport aircraft takes off or lands somewhere around the globe. As our aircrews serve on these international airlift missions, they follow strict guidelines on contracting for hotel accommodations and all expenditures of taxpayer dollars.”
The Trump family bought the Turnberry golf course in 2014. It generated $23.4 million in revenue last year, up by $3 million compared to 2017.
A representative for the Trump Organization also confirmed Saturday that United States military personnel have occasionally stayed at the Trump Turnberry. But the representative said that it happened only a few times a year and that the company was charging the government a discounted rate of about $100 a night.
Any profits from the stay, beyond covering basic services like housekeeping, are being paid back to the federal government, the Trump representative said, adding that it is illegal for a private company to give a service to the federal government at no cost.
The Guardian last year reported that the Scottish government sought out the contract with the Defense Department to try to help increase revenue at the airport. That effort also included discussions with Trump Turnberry about offering special rates for travelers that used the hotel or other ways to lift business there.
The Prestwick airport, which does not have direct flights from the United States, has struggled financially in recent years. The Scottish government bought the airport in 2013 in an attempt to keep it operational, and it is now trying to sell it.
The next closest airport to the Trump Turnberry resort is the main international airport in Glasgow, which is 55 miles away, or nearly twice the distance. A spokesman for Trump Organization said most international travelers headed to Trump Turnberry already use the larger Glasgow airport, so the Trump resort received no major benefit by keeping the Prestwick airport operational.
The Trump Organization announced in 2014 that it was teaming up with executives at the Prestwick airport to try to drive more traffic to its runways.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with Glasgow Prestwick Airport,” Mr. Trump said during a visit to the airport at the time, after he bought the golf course. “They have a tremendous facility with a unique, rich history.”
The news media in Scotland reported at the time that as part of the deal, the Trump Organization would offer rides from the airport to the Turnberry resort either by a Trump-owned helicopter or via hired cars.
“Forging a new partnership between the airport and the Trump Organization will undoubtedly be mutually beneficial to both parties,” Iain Cochrane, then the chief executive of the airport, was quoted as saying at the time.
Mr. Trump, sharing a link about the deal on Twitter, wrote, “Donald Trump pledges to make Prestwick Airport ‘really successful.’”
House investigators said they were frustrated that no one from the Defense Department had responded to questions about operations at the Prestwick airport.
“The Defense Department has not produced a single document in this investigation,” the committee said in a statement. “The committee will be forced to consider alternative steps if the Pentagon does not begin complying voluntarily in the coming days.”