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House committee calls for Turnberry inquiry

House committee calls for Turnberry inquiry – from The Scotsman 

The chairman of one of the most powerful committees in the US Congress has seized on an investigation by The Scotsman into US federal government spending at Donald Trump’s flagship Scottish property to demand the full disclosure of the “questionable” payments amid concern they fall foul of the law.

Eliot Engel, who helms the House Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested the tens of thousands of pounds spent by the US State Department at the Trump Turnberry hotel and golf resort may simply be supporting the US president’s loss making business, rather than facilitating official business by his administration.

The high ranking Democrat warned that by “personally enriching” Mr Trump, the payments appeared to violate the domestic emoluments clause of the US constitution, which prohibits the president from profiting from his own government.

Mr Engel cited a report by The Scotsman from earlier this month which revealed the State Department has spent more than £11,000 on rooms at the South Ayrshire resort this summer.

The veteran politician said he was left “concerned” by the story, and has asked officials at the department for a comprehensive breakdown of its expenditure at Turnberry, ranging from hotel rooms and meals to minibar expenses and room service costs, as well as any discounts struck by US government employees at the resort.

As revealed by The Scotsman, the payment worth $13,835 (£11,097), was made on 3 July for “hotel accommodation” at Turnberry throughout the course of the month. It marked the fourth such payment made by the department to Mr Trump’s resort since he took office, with the total spend to date exceeding £75,000.

All the payments were approved via the US Embassy in London and routed via the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, the body charged with implementing US. foreign policy and promoting US interests in Europe.

In a letter to Brian Bulatao, undersecretary of state for management at the State Department, Mr Engel wrote: “The most recent payment was reportedly an advance for hotel rooms to be used during July.

“While the specific purpose for securing these rooms is unclear, reporting indicates that President Trump’s son, Eric, is a regular at the resort – raising questions about whether any of the questionable payments may in fact be supporting the president’s family business, as opposed to official administration travel.”

Despite fielding numerous enquiries from The Scotsman regarding the tranche of payments made to SLC Turnberry Limited – the resort’s parent firm, which is overseen by Mr Trump’s adult sons – the State Department and the White House have not disclosed further details about them.

The Trump Organisation has said that US government custom at its properties is billed ‘at cost’, and that it does not profit from the payments.

However, there is growing disquiet over the close ties between Mr Trump’s public office and his private businesses, with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a progressive watchdog group, warning that the lines between the two “have all but evaporated.”

Mr Engel, who pointed to the “opaque web of shell companies” surrounding Mr Trump’s golf and hotel resort’s, echoed such concerns in his letter to Mr Bulatao.

“The department’s decision to use the president’s commercial properties as lodging or event venues for official travel creates unnecessary additional burdens for the department and its employees, while personally enriching the president, seemingly in violation of the constitution,” he added.

He has asked the State Department to provide “complete and unredacted” records of its spending by no later than 2 August.

Mr Engel, who also flagged a report by the US investigative journalism site, ProPublica, which detailed State Department spending at Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida, is not the first member of his party to reference The Scotsman‘s reporting of Mr Trump’s businesses and their links to his administration.

Last year, other leading Democrats including Elijah Cummings, now the chair of the influential House Oversight Committee, and Elizabeth Warren, who hopes to secure her party’s nomination for the 2020 presidential race, cited the newspaper’s reports about the first batch of payments to SLC Turnberry Limited when calling for a wide ranging investigation and audit of State Department and Department of Homeland Security spending.

Last month, meanwhile, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programmes ratified an amendment to legislation which controls the State Department’s budget which, in theory, prevents federal spending at Mr Trump’s firms.

However, the amendment is unlikely to become enshrined in law, given it requires the approval of the Republican-controlled Senate.

Turnberry has racked up millions of pounds of losses since Mr Trump bought the resort in 2014. According to Companies House filings, its parent firm was in the red by almost £3.4m in 2017. The latest accounts are due to be published this autumn.

Mr Trump himself stood down as a director of SLC Turnberry Limited in January 2017, but the way the business is structured ensures he remains its ultimate owner via a New York-based state grantor trust. It in turn has just two trustees – Mr Trump and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organisation’s chief financial officer.

 

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