The ways in which Donald Trump has found to skim funds from the government—in other words, to enrich himself by stealing money from you—are legion. Whether it’s the Air Force keeping his money-losing Scottish golf course afloat, massive overcharging for his Washington, D.C., hotel., or the way he has made slipping money into one of his clubs a prerequisite for getting on the government’s agenda, one thing is clear: When Trump talks about getting more done in the last four years than anyone else, what he really means is enriching himself.
Last week, David Fahrenthold and the crew at The Washington Post looked at how the State Department had gone deep on funneling money to Trump, and on covering up how much money that might be. After agreeing before a federal judge to release thousands of pages of financial records in two batches, the first of which was to come before the election, the State Department released the first batch on time. Except that “batch” turned out to be one (1) receipt for a single hotel room. How much did the State Department really channel into Trump’s very expensive but badly tailored pocket? It’s literally, and very, very intentionally, impossible to know until the remainder of the documents are released.
But while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continues this last ditch cover-up, Fahrenthold had continued his number-crunching. And it’s turned up a few other items …
As The Washington Post reports, Trump hasn’t made money from the White House just by skimming directly from government funds, but that has been a significant source of his revenue. For example, rather than meeting with Japanese President Shinzo Abe at the White House, or Camp David, or any other government property, Trump insisted that they hold the meeting at Mar-a-Lago, his privately owned club in Florida. Then he charged the government for every room, every meal, every drink, and every round of golf—including his own.
That’s right. Trump charged the American people to Trump eat Trump’s food at Trump’s club. The prime rib on the buffet line is even better when it’s free. It gets better: Trump charged $3 for water, even when he was the one drinking it.
In addition to straight-out paying himself to feed and house himself, Trump has, of course, charged the government the equivalent of two years’ presidential salary simply so the Secret Service can ride golf carts. Room charges have run into the millions. But taking it from everyone’s taxes isn’t the only way Trump has fended off his creditors in the past four years. He’s also insisted that Republican functions take place at his properties, and that conservative groups hold their events at his hotels. Add it all together, and Trump has collected a minimum of $8.1 million funneled through his properties either directly from taxpayers or from political groups hoping to have his support.
Those are just the payments we know about, not including whatever is hiding in the “second batch” at the State Department, or in the files of other agencies. And it’s not including $5.6 million that Trump has paid himself by spending money from his own campaign since 2017. Why did Trump immediately start campaigning again following his inauguration? Because it was the best way to ensure that he had a steady stream of revenue. Oh, and while Trump may be shutting down televised campaign commercials in Florida, the latest move that shows his campaign coffers are running dry, he has not stopped paying himself. Far from it. Trump is Trump’s biggest “customer.”
As the Post study makes clear, it’s not that Trump’s properties won this business through some form of competitive bidding. The government is a “captive customer” of Trump. If he goes to Mar-a-Lago or his club in New Jersey, the White House officials, staffers, military officers, and the ubiquitous Secret Service members come along. Not only has Trump not seen fit to give these required guests a discount, in many cases the cost of rooms has suddenly soared.
Back in 2016, Trump tsk’d over how he would be stuck behind his desk every day.
“If I win, I may never see my property. I may never see these places again. Because I’m going to be working for you, I’m not going to have time to go play golf. Believe me.”
That was an absolutely incredible 140 golf trips ago. Trump has only been in the White House 196 weeks, and he’s had to squeeze in a few things like nuclear arms negotiations, NATO meetings, global financial negotiations, and a pandemic response around his play dates. Fortunately, he’s always been able to slip away to make sure that he keeps spending—and keeps pocketing your money.