WASHINGTON — Back in 2014, soon after acquiring a golf resort in Scotland, Donald J. Trump entered a partnership with a struggling local airport there to increase air traffic and boost tourism in the region.
The next year, as Mr. Trump began running for president, the Pentagon decided to ramp up its use of that same airport to refuel Air Force flights and gave the local airport authority the job of helping to find accommodations for flight crews who had to remain overnight.
Those two separate arrangements have now intersected in ways that provide the latest evidence of how Mr. Trump’s continued ownership of his business produces regular ethical questions.
On Monday, President Trump sought to tamp down a growing controversy over a stay at the resort by United States military personnel who were traveling through the airport in Scotland in March. First on Twitter and later speaking to reporters at the White House, he said he was not involved in any decision to put an Air Force flight crew at the resort, known as Trump Turnberry.
“I know nothing about an Air Force plane landing at an airport (which I do not own and have nothing to do with) near Turnberry Resort (which I do own) in Scotland, and filling up with fuel, with the crew staying overnight at Turnberry (they have good taste!),” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “NOTHING TO DO WITH ME.”
But documents obtained from Scottish government agencies show that the Trump Organization, and Mr. Trump himself, played a direct role in setting up an arrangement between the Turnberry resort and officials at Glasgow Prestwick Airport.
The government records, released through Scottish Freedom of Information law, show that the Trump organization, starting in 2014, entered a partnership with the airport to try to increase private and commercial air traffic to the region.
As part of that arrangement, the Trump Organization worked to get Trump Turnberry added to a list of hotels that the airport would routinely send aircrews to, even though the Turnberry resort is 20 miles from the airport, farther away than many other hotels, and has higher advertised prices.
Trump Organization executives held a series of meetings with the airport officials to negotiate terms that would lead to more referrals, the documents show.
“As a list of hotels that we use for our business, being honest, Turnberry was always last on the list, based on price,” Jules Matteoni, a manager at Glasgow Prestwick, wrote in June 2015 to executives at Trump Turnberry. “Yesterday’s proposal places Turnberry in a favorable position and gives us food for thought in our placement of crews moving forward.”
Mr. Trump visited Glasgow Prestwick in 2014 and promised to help increase traffic at the airport, although at the time he was largely referring to plans to drive corporate jets there and attract other commercial traffic perhaps carrying golfers on the way to his resort.
“Forging a new partnership between the airport and the Trump Organization will undoubtedly be mutually beneficial,” Iain Cochrane, then the chief executive of the airport, said at the time of Mr. Trump’s visit.
The documents detailing these conversations were previously obtained by reporters in Scotland, including The Scotsman and The Guardian, who wrote articles about the relationship between the Prestwick airport and the Trump Organization. The documents are still posted on the Scottish government website.
Both the Defense Department and executives at the airport confirmed on Monday that the airport also has a separate arrangement with the United States Air Force. Under that arrangement, the Scottish airport not only refuels American military planes but also helps arrange hotel accommodations for arriving crews, as it does for some civilian and commercial aircraft.
“We provide a full handling service for customers and routinely arrange overnight accommodation for visiting aircrew when requested,” the Prestwick airport said in a statement on Monday. “We use over a dozen local hotels, including Trump Turnberry, which accounts for a small percentage of the total hotel bookings we make.”
It was through the arrangement with the Pentagon that a seven-person United States Air Force crew ended up staying at the Trump Turnberry in March. An Air Force C-17 military transport plane was on its way from Alaska to Kuwait when it stopped at Prestwick overnight to refuel and give the crew a break.
The crew, which consisted of active duty and national guard members from Alaska, was charged $136 per room, which was less expensive than a Marriott property’s rate of $161. And both were under the per diem rate of $166.
“A local agent on contract with the U.S. government assisted with the reservations and indicated that there wasn’t a room available closer to Prestwick airport,” the Air Force said in a statement. A Defense Department official added on Monday that “yes — the Air Force relies on a contracted representative at the Prestwick airport to support our aircrew needs.”
The number of such stops by Air Force planes at Prestwick rose from 180 in 2017 to 257 last year and 259 so far this year. The 259 stops this year included 220 overnight stays. Since October 2017, records show 917 payments for expenses including fuel at the airport worth a total of $17.2 million.
Air Force officials could not say on Monday how many times military crews had been sent to Trump Turnberry, but added that they are now going through vouchers to come up with such a count.
Lt. Gen. Jon T. Thomas, the deputy commander of the Air Force Air Mobility Command, said in an interview on Monday that the rising number of military stopovers at Prestwick was entirely based on operational demands, as the airport is in a convenient location, has 24-hour operations and offers ample aircraft parking, among other advantages. He added that the Air Force has been using Prestwick for stopovers since at least the late 1990s.
But he agreed that the decision to place Air Force crew members at a hotel owned by Mr. Trump’s family had created questions that the Defense Department needed to address. As a result, the Air Force is now reviewing policies on where crews are put up in hotels during international trips.
“Let’s make sure we are considering potential for misperception that could be created by where we billet the aircrews,” he said. “It is a reasonable ask for us to make sure we are being sensitive to misperceptions that could be formed by the American people or Congress or anyone else.”
Mr. Trump disputed that there were any legitimate questions about the stay by the Air Force crew, suggesting that he was so wealthy that the business was inconsequential to him.
“I don’t need to have somebody take a room overnight at a hotel,” Mr. Trump said.
He also dismissed suggestions that he was profiting when Vice President Mike Pence recently spent two nights at the Trump family’s golf resort in Doonbeg, Ireland.
“So what is happening is the following: Every time you find a person landing in an airplane within 500 miles of something I own, Mike Pence, as an example, his family lives in Doonbeg, Ireland,” Mr. Trump said, rejecting these questions as unfounded.
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