WASHINGTON — The Air Force has ordered a review of its procedures used to decide where personnel are put up during overnight layovers, after conceding on Sunday that the decision to place a crew at the luxury resort owned by the Trump family in Scotland this year “might be allowable but not advisable.”
The internal inquiry is being conducted at the request of Air Force leadership, which has directed the Air Mobility Command “to review all guidance pertaining to selection of airports and lodging accommodations during international travels.”
This comes after the Air Force decided in March to send seven crew members flying on a C-17 military transport plane that was on its way to Kuwait from Alaska to the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland, after the plane had a layover at an airport nearby.
On Saturday, an Air Force official defended the decision to place the crew at the Trump resort, saying that there were no other closer rooms available and that the discounted rate the resort charged meant the cost was below a spending limit.
But on Sunday, in a follow-up statement, the Air Force conceded that the decision might have created a public perception issue.
“While initial reviews indicate that aircrew transiting through Scotland adhered to all guidance and procedures, we understand that U.S. service members lodging at higher-end accommodations, even if within government rates, might be allowable but not advisable,” said the statement issued on Sunday evening by Brig. Gen. Edward W. Thomas Jr., the chief Air Force spokesman. “Therefore, we are reviewing all associated guidance.”
The issue, the Air Force said, is that even if the “aircrews follow all directives and guidance, we must still be considerate of perceptions of not being good stewards of taxpayer funds that might be created through the appearance of aircrew staying at such locations.”
The Air Force also offered an explanation as to why the Defense Department had significantly increased its use of the Glasgow Prestwick Airport, which is about 20 miles from the Trump Turnberry golf resort.
The Air Force explained that it has moved in recent years to try to consolidate the number of places it uses as locations for refueling and stopovers and that the Prestwick airport has “more favorable weather than nearby Shannon Airport” in Ireland “and less aircraft parking congestion than locations on the European continent.”
The Defense Department has been using the Prestwick airport since at least 2015, when it had 95 stopovers, but that number rose to 145 by 2016, and then 180 in 2017, 257 as of last year and 259 so far this year. The 259 stops this year included 220 overnight stays.
Since October 2017, records show 917 purchases at the airport worth a total of $17.2 million.
During the March 2019 stopover, the Air Force placed the crew at the Trump property after a local agent on contract with the United States government had “indicated that there wasn’t a room available closer,” the Air Force statement said. The Trump property charged the Air Force $136 per room, which the Air Force said was less expensive than a Marriott property, which had a rate of $161, and both were under the allowable maximum of $166.
Air Force officials have not yet said, in response to a question from The New York Times, if personnel were placed at the Trump Turnberry resort more than once.
But asked on Sunday if Mr. Trump’s election in 2016 played any role in the decision to use the Prestwick airport more frequently, Mr. Thomas, the Air Force spokesman, said in a written statement, “Not that I am aware of.”
In 2014, shortly after the Trump Organization bought the Turnberry golf course, Mr. Trump met with officials at Prestwick airport and agreed to work with them to help increase traffic at the airport, which has struggled financially because of a decline in passenger traffic. The agreement at the time included a plan to offer transportation from the airport to the Trump golf resort. Discounts have also been offered on rooms at the hotel to military personnel.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with Glasgow Prestwick Airport,” Mr. Trump said during the visit to Prestwick. “They have a tremendous facility with a unique, rich history.”
House investigators have asked the Pentagon to address a series of questions about increased Air Force flights to the Prestwick airport, and the potentially more troubling choice to put up Air Force personnel at the Trump Turnberry resort, questioning if perhaps this was part of some effort to help out Mr. Trump’s family business.
“The airport closest to the Trump Turnberry golf course — Glasgow Prestwick Airport — has been viewed as integral to the golf course’s financial success, yet it too has lost millions of dollars every year since its purchase by the Scottish government in 2013,” said a June letter to the Defense Department from Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland and the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “Given the president’s continued financial stake in his Scotland golf courses, these reports raise questions.”
The Turnberry golf resort generated $23.4 million in revenue last year for the Trump family, up by $3 million compared with 2017.
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