US Secret Service spent quarter of a million dollars at President Trump's properties in first five months of his term

The spending appears to match up with US President Donald Trump's visits to his own properties, including his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - The US Secret Service paid more than US$250,000 (S$340,000) to President Donald Trump's private businesses in just the first five months of Trump's presidency - paying the president's company an average of nearly US$2,000 per day, according to Secret Service records.

Those records, obtained by the group Property of the People after an open-records lawsuit, detail some of the revenue that Trump derives from the US taxpayer.

The president has set up an extraordinary arrangement: he kept ownership of his businesses - and then visited them repeatedly, bringing along aides and security officials and charging the government for what they bought.

Documents released previously had shown US$84,000 in federal spending at Trump properties in the first months of Trump's time in office. These new records, detailing spending on Secret Service credit cards, show another US$254,000 by the Secret Service alone.

The documents do not give much detail about the spending: they list only the dates of the purchases, and the name of the Trump property that received the payments.

Adding to the confusion: Trump has multiple properties called "Trump National Golf Club," and this list does not distinguish between them.

But in some cases, the spending appears to match up with Trump's visits to his own properties.

On April 2, 2017, for instance, Trump played golf at his club in suburban Virginia - a short drive from the White House.

That day, the records show, the Secret Service made five separate payments to "Trump National Golf Club" totalling US$26,802, the records show.

Between May 31, 2017, and June 5, 2017, Trump played golf twice at the Virginia course, according to news reports - including once with former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and then-Senator Bob Corker. The Secret Service reported paying US$29,000 to the Trump golf club then.

Later, on May 7, Trump was staying at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. The Secret Service records show US$16,000 in spending at "Trump National Golf Club" that day.

The records do not show what the Secret Service payments are for.

But Secret Service agents often spend multiple days securing a property and planning on-site before a president's arrival, even if it isn't the president's first time going there. It's unclear how the Secret Service would do this at Trump properties where there are little or no overnight accommodations, including the Virginia golf course.

Some expenditures do not seem to correlate to Trump's public schedule.

On March 17, Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida. But on that day, the Secret Service recorded spending US$40,000 at a Trump property thousands of miles away: the Trump hotel in Las Vegas.

That spending could relate to a visit by someone else: the Secret Service protects other top officials and Trump family members.

The White House declined to comment for this story. The Trump Organisation and the Secret Service did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday (Nov 21).

Ryan Shapiro, the executive director of Property of the People, said the figures showed "Donald Trump views the American public as a bunch of marks waiting to be fleeced." "Due to his overt self-dealing and refusal to divest from his sprawling business empire, Donald Trump has turned the American presidency into a racket," Shapiro said.

His group had submitted a public-records request to the Secret Service in June of 2017 for "any and all records reflecting charges to a Government Travel Charge card or other government charge card for expenditures at Trump businesses," according to Secret Service records. The group then sued after the records weren't provided.

The Constitution prohibits Presidents from taking "emoluments," or payments, from the US government beyond their official presidential salary. Trump has said this does not prohibit him from charging his own government for services rendered.

Eric Trump, the president's son, is one of those running the Trump Organisation while Trump is in the White House. He has said that the Trump Organisation only charges the taxpayers "at cost" for federal employees, but has not said more about how that "cost" figure is calculated.

Previously, other records have shown that taxpayers covered the cost of Trump aides staying in the guest suites at Mar-a-Lago, at US$546 per night. Taxpayers also paid for a US$1,000 liquor tab rung up by Trump aides in a Mar-a-Lago bar.

The Secret Service records released Thursday only cover the first five months of Trump's term, during which he made 21 visits to Trump properties, by The Washington Post's count.

Since then, Trump has made more than 100 additional visits to his own properties. The Secret Service has not yet released records about those visits.

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