Sometimes we have to call a spade a spade.
Other times, we have to call a piffle a piffle.
Today is one of those other times. We refer to what has been called the “burgeoning controversy” and “cesspool of corruption” over the U.S. Air Force lodging crews at President Donald Trump’s Turnberry golf resort in Scotland while their planes were being refueled at nearby Glasgow Prestwick Airport over the past few years.
The revelations of the military accommodations at the luxury golf resort has triggered a full review by the Air Force of its layover policies and an investigation by the House Oversight Committee.
“Given the president’s continued financial stake in his Scotland golf courses, these reports raise questions about the president’s potential receipt of U.S. or foreign government emoluments in violation of the U.S. Constitution and raise serious conflict of interest concerns,” U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, wrote in a June records request to the Department of Defense.
Scandal, shock – the president lining his own pockets by ordering military personnel to stay at his own resort!
Yeah, well, let’s take a breath and see where this really goes once the facts are in.
Here’s fact number one. The Air Force’s contract for refueling at Glasgow Prestwick was inked by — wait for it — then-President Barack Obama. The refueling agreement has resulted in increased military spending with $11 million in fuel being purchased since October 2017 and $17 million being purchased in total since 2015, according to news reports. As part of that agreement, according to the Guardian newspaper, the airport agreed to provide cut-rate rooms and free rounds of golf at Turnberry — which was one of several accommodations used in the vicinity.
Last Thursday, the Air Force said it reviewed 659 overnight stays by crew members who stopped at Glasgow Prestwick and found about 6 percent of the crews stayed at the golf resort — with 75 percent staying in the immediate vicinity of the airfield and 18 percent staying in Glasgow.
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So how many airmen are we talking about and how much did they pay?
Those numbers are still a little harder to come by. The Air Force review suggests there were about 40 crew stays at Turnberry, and Politico has reported that in the last four stays since September 2018, the crews ranged from five to nearly 40 people. Doing a back-of-the-envelope calculation that would mean that — even using the top figure of 40 people — the total number of Air Force accommodations at Turnberry over the past few years might be 1,600.
And how much did they pay? That, too, is a little murky. The Air Force says the rates paid by the military were below the $166 per diem rate that is allowed. The Trump Organization said it charges visiting air crews about $100 each and that for 90 percent of the year, its rates are too high for Defense Department reimbursement schedules. The Des Moines (Iowa) Register reported last week that a reporter and photographer who were accompanying an Iowa National Guard unit that stayed at Turnberry while on a refueling stop to Kosovo last September paid for two rooms at a rate of $150.
Doing some more back-of-the-envelope scratching and using that $150 rate, that would mean those 1,600 airman accommodations might have cost about $240,000 over four years. Currently, the full rate for lodging at Turnberry, the Register reported, runs from $356 to $702 a night — more than twice the allowed military rate. And the free golf? Well, that currently runs about $500 a round at Turnberry’s Ailsa course. In November, it will drop to a quarter of that.
Small wonder, then, that with all the discounted military rates and free golf in the past four years, that Turnberry has failed to turn a profit since Trump bought it in 2014 and, according to the British Broadcasting Corp., the resort is on the block.
That’s hardly the stuff of a pocket-lining scandal and, in our view, doesn’t fit with other allegations of Trump emoluments violations currently working their way through the courts.
Our guess would be that a full-scale Air Force review and House Oversight Committee investigation might run up a tab as high as the Air Force lodging bill.
It might even be more than a piffle.