President Donald Trump’s company charged the Secret Service $157,000 more than was previously known – billing taxpayers for rooms at his clubs at rates far higher than his company has claimed, according to a new trove of receipts and billing documents released by the Secret Service.
Many of the new receipts were obtained by the watchdog group Public Citizen, which spent three years battling the Secret Service over a public-records request from January 2017.
When added to dozens of charges already reported by the Washington Post, the new documents show that Trump’s company has charged the Secret Service more than $628,000 since he took office in 2017.
The payments show Trump has an unprecedented – and still partially hidden – business relationship with his own government. The full scope of that relationship is still unknown because the publicly available records are largely from 2017 and 2018, leaving huge gaps in the data.
The new documents include bills from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, showing charges for 177 additional nightly room rentals in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The rate was $396.15 per night per room, the receipts show.
In Bedminster, New Jersey, the new receipts also show that a rental arrangement that began in summer 2017 – where Trump’s club charged the Secret Service $17,000 per month to rent a cottage near the president’s – continued in summer 2018 and for at least part of summer 2019. That rate is unusually high for homes in the area, according to local rental listings.
Trump’s son Eric Trump, who is helping to run the Trump Organisation while his father is in the White House, suggested in an interview last year with Yahoo Finance that the company charges a very low rate to federal employees accompanying the president.
“If my father travels, they stay at our properties for free – meaning, like, cost for housekeeping,” said Eric Trump, the company’s executive vice president. Later in the interview, he said, “We charge them, like, 50 bucks.”
In response to questions from the Post about the Secret Service payments, Eric Trump has said the company charges the Secret Service “at cost” but declined to provide more details. The rate charged to the Secret Service at Mar-a-Lago was more than double what the club charged another government customer, a visiting official from the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to VA records.
Asked about the spending, the Secret Service responded with a brief statement. “In the execution of our protective mission, the Secret Service balances operational security with judicious allocation of resources,” a spokeswoman said.
The White House declined to comment. Donald Trump still owns his company but says he has given day-to-day control to his eldest sons.
The Secret Service accompanies the president and his family members wherever they go, and while on protective duty its agents are exempt from federal limits on hotel room spending.
But there appears to be no requirement that presidents must charge the Secret Service. In fact, most recent presidents and vice presidents have allowed the Secret Service to use space on their properties free, according to their spokesmen or presidential library staff.
Before Trump, the one recent exception had been then-Vice President Joe Biden, who charged the Secret Service $2,200 a month to rent a cottage at his home in Delaware. A Biden spokesman said that was a fair market rate. Biden’s payments were formalized in a federal contract and listed in public databases of federal spending.
The Secret Service’s payments to Trump’s companies have been made through federal credit cards, not formal contracts. They are not listed in public databases. The Post and watchdog groups including Public Citizen have assembled some details of the Secret Service’s spending at Trump properties through public-records requests, one receipt at a time.
The documents reviewed by The Post so far have included charges for more than 590 nights in rooms at Trump properties. At Mar-a-Lago, the rate for the Secret Service started at $650 per night, according to people who have seen unredacted versions of the receipts from early 2017 viewed by The Post. The rate then fell to $396.15 per night by fall 2017, other receipts show. At Bedminster, the monthly cottage rent worked out to $566.64 per night.
The Post has not yet found any instance where a Trump property charged the Secret Service $50 per night for a room or any rate under $100 per night.
Public Citizen submitted the public-records request with the Secret Service on Jan. 6, 2017 – before Trump took office. They asked for records related to the cost of Secret Service agents accompanying Trump on trips to his private homes. After three years of legal wrangling, the Secret Service last month sent Public Citizen 60 pounds of documents, the group said.
The Secret Service had produced thousands of pages of receipts, mostly related to Trump’s visits to two properties – Mar-a-Lago and Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster – where he has spent a combined 219 days of his presidency. The receipts were largely from 2017 and 2018.
Trump has spent 355 days – 30 percent of his presidency so far – visiting his own properties, according to a Washington Post tally.
Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, said the group was happy to get the documents – but dismayed that most of them were so old.
“That is not how the process is supposed to work,” Weissman said. “Responding in 2020 with information from 2017 and 2018 is not okay.” The Secret Service said in a statement that it adheres to all rules governing public-records requests.
Some of the documents were for bills from the clubs. Around Christmas 2017, for instance, the Secret Service paid for 57 nights in Mar-a-Lago’s guest rooms, for a total bill of $22,580.
On many bills from Mar-a-Lago, the $396.15 nightly rate for these rooms was listed as “Room Rate at Cost.”
The Trump Organization has not explained how it calculates that cost or why that figure differs so widely from Eric Trump’s public claim that the cost was “like 50 bucks.” Hotel industry experts say that the cost of housekeeping for a luxury hotel room is typically $40 to $50 per night. Could the cost be as high as $396.15 at Mar-a-Lago?
“No. That’s not possible,” Diego Bufquin, a professor at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management told The Post this month.
“Let’s say that you use the best shampoos, the best soaps, the best conditioners, the best coffee,” Bufquin said. “At the end of the day you may have something approaching $100, if you have the top products in the world in your guest room. . . . I’ve never seen variable costs per room sold at $400.”
Experts said that cleaning a room typically takes a housekeeper a half-hour and noted that – according to documents filed with the Labour Department – the starting salary for housekeepers at Mar-a-Lago is $11.17 per hour.
In a recent interview with a Fox News podcast, Eric Trump called a prior Post story on Secret Service payments to the Trump Organisation “disgusting” and said that the company does not make a profit on these payments.
“I joke all the time that I would like nothing more than to never have another person from the government stay at one of our properties because it displaces a true paying guest,” he said.
Eric Trump did not respond to questions from The Post asking him to elaborate on his remarks in the interview.
It is difficult to estimate what Mar-a-Lago charges its nongovernment customers, as the club does not publish its room rates. As a private club, the rooms are open only to guests of members, and even members are told to call and ask for price quotes.
But another receipt makes clear that $396.15 is not the lowest the club’s rates can go.
In April 2018, the chief of staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Peter O’Rourke, stayed overnight at Mar-a-Lago, according to a hotel bill obtained by ProPublica. At the time, ProPublica reported, O’Rourke was visiting the club to meet with a Mar-a-Lago member and two associates who were unofficially advising the department.
O’Rourke was charged only $195. That is the maximum rate a non-Secret Service government employee was permitted to spend on a hotel in the Palm Beach area under federal rules. O’Rourke has since left VA and did not respond to requests for comment.
The Secret Service happened to be renting four rooms on the same night, other receipts show. Mar-a-Lago charged them $396.15 each – more than double O’Rourke’s rate.
In Bedminster, the receipts show that – as in 2017 – the club charged $17,000 a month for the “Sarazen Cottage.” The monthly arrangement meant the Trump Organisation company got paid by taxpayers, even when Donald Trump wasn’t at the club – or even in the country. On June 12, 2018, for instance, Trump was in Singapore for a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Even with the president was 9,500 miles away, the Secret Service still paid rent on the cottage in New Jersey. A former government official with direct knowledge of Secret Service operations told The Post that because equipment was stored in the cottage, it could not be rented to other guests. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve relationships in the administration.
The Post has now filed more than 60 public-records request of its own, seeking details about payments by the Secret Service, State Department, Defence Department and other agencies. The House Oversight and Reform Committee has also asked the Secret Service for an accounting of its spending at Trump properties, but the service has not yet provided it.
“The Secret Service has a statutory duty to report its expenditures at Trump properties,” committee chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said. “And the incomplete record further underscores the need for transparency.
The Washington Post