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Mandatory stops at Trump resorts are the tip of the iceberg — this president has been grifting all along

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- Commentary

So President Trump had a very normal weekend. He tweeted repeatedly about his mistake in telling Alabama it was in the path of Hurricane Dorian, insisting that it wasn’t a mistake at all. The controversy grew into something quite serious when it became obvious Trump was ordering an admiral to fall on his sword and take responsibility, and forcing political appointees at the NOAA to say his lie was actually the truth. Orwell has been mentioned. A lot.

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Then Trump had an angry Twitter tantrum on Saturday night, announcing that he was canceling a secret meeting with leaders of the Taliban, that had apparently scheduled for Sunday morning at Camp David.

According to this tick-tock in the New York Times, Trump had decided to inject himself into the later stages of the negotiation with this Camp David gambit. But the whole thing was upended by his egomaniacal desire to one-up Jimmy Carter and get credit for a big peace deal without having the first clue what he was doing or understanding the stakes. One of the parties he wanted for his photo-op was anathema to the Taliban, so they balked and then the whole thing fell apart — supposedly when Trump suddenly realized that the Taliban was still killing people. Nobody can quite figure out why he tweeted it out. One gets the feeling he doesn’t know either.

Those two stories dominated the news this weekend, but there was another brewing that will start to come into focus this week — if, that is, the Democrats do what they say they’re going to do. Congressional committees are reconvening and new reporting indicates they may have more information about Trump’s corruption than has been made public.

A couple of weeks ago I wondered if President Trump wasn’t hedging his bets a little bit on 2020 by accelerating the usual promotional activities for his properties. On some level he must know that he’s vulnerable, and perhaps sees that his window for using his power to benefit himself may be closing. In the last week we’ve received even more evidence that he’s been quite successful at dipping his beak ever since he became president.

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Last Friday, Politico reported that the House has been investigating a strange incident in which the Air Force made an unusual refueling stop at a small government-owned airport in Scotland that just happened to be next to Trump’s failing golf course in Turnberry. The crew was befuddled at the order, and even more so when they ended up at Trump’s pricey club, feeling out of place and without enough per-diem money to buy food and drink. It was, to say the least, unexpected.

The reporting shows that many millions of dollars were spent since 2017 at this out-of-the way little airport, and more than just those airmen were shuttled to Turnberry to funnel government money into Trump’s pocket. The Guardian reported that that the airport gives complimentary rounds of golf and discounted rooms to some of the military personnel who stay at Turnberry, which suggests this is an orchestrated racket.

It’s highly unlikely that Trump would have directly given an order to do this. As Mike Pence’s spokesman said when the veep was criticized for staying at Trump’s Doonbeg resort on his recent trip to Ireland, it’s more like the president just “suggests” it. More likely people just know that pleasing Trump by putting money in his pocket is smart politics. He does love money.

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It may be that this is not technically illegal. But it certainly appears to be massively unethical, especially if what the Guardian reports about the Scottish government’s involvement turns out to be true:

An investigation by the Guardian has revealed Glasgow Prestwick airport is a base for live missions by the US Air Force, while its executives have highlighted its close relations with President Trump’s nearby resort at Turnberry to promote its bid to become a spaceport backed by the US government.

The Scottish government knew all about this, apparently, clear back to Trump’s presidential campaign. If anyone still cared about the Constitution, that emoluments clause would clearly be in play here. From the looks of it, that clause is only in effect for presidents who take bags of cash in a paper bag from a foreign potentate. Other than that it’s no longer operative, and presidents are now allowed to take as much money from foreign governments as can be channeled into the businesses they refused to divest from when they became president. If the next Republican president isn’t already a businessman, he’ll have to set up some pass-through corporations so that he too can legally receive bribes from foreign governments.

Politico reported on Sunday that the Air Force was conducting a full review of the process after “additional instances of military personnel staying at Trump properties have been uncovered.” But Air Force personnel aren’t the only ones putting taxpayer money into Donald Trump’s Turnberry coffers. The Scotsman reported in 2018 that the State Department had paid for staffers to stay at the resort and that family members’ Secret Service details routinely spend tens of thousands at Trump hotels, Turnberry included, when their charges travel.

That’s nothing compared to the money that Republican officials, foreign dignitaries and fans spend at the Trump hotels, whose profits go directly into the president’s pockets. Nobody knows exactly how much money is being spent, but it’s in the tens of millions. The New York Times reported over the weekend:

Since Mr. Trump became president, there have been thousands of visits to his properties, not only by Mr. Trump himself, but by foreign leaders, lobbyists, Republican candidates, members of Congress, cabinet members and others with ties to the president. At least 90 members of Congress, 250 Trump administration officials and more than 110 foreign officials have been spotted at Trump properties since 2017, according to social media posts and counts by various watchdog groups.

That is undoubtedly a low estimate. And nobody knows how much money has really been spent. Some are looking for favors, some probably just want to be seen and some simply want to give the president money because they love him so much:

“President Trump has really been on the side of the evangelicals and we want to do everything we can to make him successful,” said Sharon Bolan Yerby, an evangelical minister from Dallas, who had dinner at the hotel last fall, and then headed over to the White House the next day for a “faith briefing” of religious leaders. “And if that means having dinner or staying in his hotel, we are going to do so.”

This is corruption in plain sight by Republicans, lobbyists, foreign dignitaries and supporters. Trump excuses it by saying that people just like his “product” and claiming that he’s actually lost $3 billion to $5 billion on this president deal. How could anyone possibly object if he makes a few measly million from people who appreciate his greatness?

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