WASHINGTON • When President-elect Donald Trump's son Eric jetted to Uruguay early last month for a Trump Organisation promotional trip, US taxpayers were left footing a bill of nearly US$100,000 (S$141,000) in hotel rooms for Secret Service and embassy staff.
It was a high-profile jaunt out of the country for Eric, the fresh- faced executive of the Trump Organisation who, like his father, has pledged to keep the company separate from the presidency.
Eric mingled with real estate brokers, dined at a beachfront eatery and spoke at an "ultra exclusive" Trump Tower Punta del Este party celebrating his visit.
The Uruguayan trip shows how the US government is unavoidably entangled with the Trump company as a result of the President's refusal to divest his ownership stake.
Though the Trumps have pledged a division of business and government, they will still depend on the publicly funded protection granted to the first family.
Mr Eric Trump's trip to the coastal resort town appeared to be brief - perhaps as short as two nights, according to a review of local press clips and social media.
The bill for the Secret Service's hotel rooms in Uruguay totalled US$88,320. The US Embassy in Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, paid an extra US$9,510 for its staff to stay in hotel rooms to "support" the Secret Service detail for the "VIP visit", according to purchasing orders reviewed by The Washington Post.
"This is an example of the blurring of the line between the personal interest in the family business and the government," said Ms Kathleen Clark, an expert on government ethics and law professor at Washington University in St Louis.
Mr Richard Painter, a White House ethics lawyer for then President George W. Bush who is part of a lawsuit accusing Mr Donald Trump of violating a constitutional provision barring presidents from taking payments from foreign governments, called the family's Secret Service protection a "worthwhile expenditure of taxpayer money".
But Mr Painter said he worried that it could be misread as boosting the Trump brand.
"All of this has an air of legitimacy: The connection to the US government, and the suggestion that if you do business with this company, you'll ingratiate yourself with the Trump administration," Mr Painter said. The implication is: "If you do a good deal with us, you'll be in good with the United States. And the Secret Service presence just exacerbates that."