Donald Trump’s flagship Scottish resort received thousands of pounds in US taxpayers’ money to host VIP visits by officials from his administration, an investigation by The Scotsman can reveal.
The US president’s resort at Turnberry received more than £5,600 in federal funds to provide accommodation for the trip earlier this year.
According to a source at the South Ayrshire hotel and golf course, the stay was in connection with Mr Trump’s official visit to the UK scheduled for this July, which is expected to include Scotland in the itinerary.
The payment, sanctioned last month by the US State Department, represents the first time one of Mr Trump’s Scottish businesses has received direct federal funding from his own government.
It adds further fuel to the debate surrounding the ethics of the president’s ability to enrich himself through US taxpayers’ money while remaining in office.
Trump’s self-serving behaviour is par for the course, and every bit as abhorrent as his disrespect for women, migrants, gun victims, the climate crisis or world peace.Patrick Harvie, co-convener, Scottish Greens
A leading political watchdog in Washington DC said the payments indicated Mr Trump was putting his “personal financial interests” before his presidency,
The payments to Turnberry, which was last month named Hotel of the Year at the Scottish Hotel Awards, were authorised by the State Department’s bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, which is responsible for developing and implementing US foreign policy.
The money was subsequently awarded to Mr Trump’s firm via the American Embassy in London.
Purchase orders obtained by The Scotsman detail the payment as being for “hotel rooms for VIP visit.” They show that an initial payment of $10,113 (£7,447) was transferred to SLC Turnberry Limited on 5 April. Some $2,444 (£1,799) was returned to the State Department a few weeks later on 26 April.
The identity of the VIP or VIPs who stayed at Turnberry - which recorded losses of £17.6m in 2016 - has not been disclosed, although Mr Trump’s son, Eric, who has been tasked with running the Trump Organisation’s global network of prestigious golf resorts in his father’s absence, is a regular visitor to South Ayrshire.
A source at Trump Turnberry said the State Department co-ordinated visit was in connection with Mr Trump’s scheduled official visit to the UK in July. The trip was confirmed on 25 April, and the itinerary is expected to take in Scotland.
The source explained: “The hotel regularly welcomes people who are connected with Mr Trump, especially his son, Eric, who’s here several times a year.
“The visit this time was part of the plans for Mr Trump coming to the UK, although we haven’t been told if he’s visiting Turnberry on the trip.”
The source was unable to confirm whether the US officials were members of the Secret Service, but is understood the money spent included accommodation costs for a security detail accompanying the unnamed party visiting Turnberry.
The US federal records describe the direct recipient of the money, SLC Turnberry Limited, as a “US owned business,” even though it is registered in the UK.
SLC Turnberry and Mr Trump’s other Scottish assets, such as Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire, form part of a parent company, Golf Recreation Scotland Limited.
Although Mr Trump resigned as a director of SLC Turnberry and Golf Recreation Scotland last January, he remains their ultimate owner.
Accounts filed with Companies House show that Golf Recreation Scotland is in turn controlled by The Donald J Trump Revocable Trust, a state grantor trust based in New York, which is managed by Eric and his brother, Donald Jr. However, the Companies House records show Mr Trump is the trust’s ultimate owner.
Before the 71-year-old was swept into power in Washington DC, his Scottish firms were owned by Turnberry Scotland Managing Member Corp, based in the US state of Delaware.
Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Centre, a Washington DC-based non-partisan political watchdog, said: “It is very difficult to see how it is in the US public’s interest for President Trump to spend taxpayer funds visiting his golf course on an official trip - although it is certainly in the president’s personal financial interest.”
Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Greens co-convener and a vocal critic of the US president, said Mr Trump would not be perturbed by the fact he is profiting from his own government.
He said: “Trump’s self-serving behaviour is par for the course, and every bit as abhorrent as his disrespect for women, migrants, gun victims, the climate crisis or world peace.
“He’ll see nothing wrong in his businesses being enriched due to his presidency, when any decent person would make a clean break to show their priority is serving the public, not building up their bank balance.”
Mr Harvie added: “As US agencies prepare for his visit, Greens are ready to stand with anyone who shares our long-held view that this bigot and charlatan is not welcome in Scotland.”
It comes amid growing unrest in the US about the intersection between Mr Trump’s businesses and his work in government.
His portfolio of properties in the US has received upwards of £150,000 in taxpayers’ money since he launched his bid for the White House.
Last month, a report by Public Citizen, a Washington-based nonprofit group, concluded that Mr Trump’s US businesses have received around $15.1m (£11.1m) in revenue from federal agencies and political organisations since he announced his candidacy for the presidency.
The report, which analysed records of taxpayers’ money spent at the 71-year-old’s property empire found that the US Defence Department has made payments of $138,093 (£101,701), while the US Secret Service has paid Trump’s firms $64,090 (£47,201). A further $4,364 (£3,214) in federal spending came from agencies such as the White House National Security Council and the General Services Administration.
According to the Public Citizen report, entitled ‘The Art of the (Self) Deal’, the only other foreign business owned by Mr Trump to have received US federal money is his Trump Ocean Club hotel in Panama, which was paid $632 (£465) by the local US embassy.
The conflict of interest surrounding Mr Trump’s inability - or unwillingness - to separate his businesses from his presidency has been a constant source of controversy over the course of his administration.
Last July, Walter Shaub, head of the independent Office of Government Ethics, resigned his position.
Mr Shaub had criticised Mr Trump for not divesting from his holdings, and said that be was “extremely troubled” by how he had simply turned over his various investments to his two oldest sons.
Mr Shaub is now senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Centre.
Mr Trump is exempt from the ethics statutes which prohibit federal employees from taking action on issues where they have a personal financial interest in the decision.
But the US constitution prevents the president from taking emoluments - or gifts - from foreign governments or individual US states.
Speaking in January, Mr Trump expressed regret at how he had been unable to visit Scotland since he became US president, describing the country as a “very special place” with “very special people.”
When asked who stayed at Turnberry, the purpose of their visit, and why the hotel was chosen, a spokeswoman for the US State Department said: “We refer you to the US Secret Service.”
The Secret Service did not respond to The Scotsman’s enquiry.