Peters Presses VP Pence on Taxpayer-Funded Travel to Trump Property in Ireland

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is pressing for answers following a decision by Vice President Mike Pence to stay at the Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in Doonbeg during his official visit to Ireland. The President’s golf club is located more than 180 miles away from Dublin, where the Vice President attended meetings during his visit. Peters expressed concerns that the Vice President wasted taxpayer dollars on excessive travel between Doonbeg and Dublin and, at the President’s suggestion, patronized a property that financially benefits President Trump.

“I am alarmed that you elected to spend taxpayer dollars for travel and lodging at President Trump’s privately-owned property – located on the other side of the country, more than 180 miles away from your meetings with government officials in Dublin,” Peters wrote. “This raises serious concerns about wasteful expenditures and possible conflicts of interest related to taxpayer-funded travel by this Administration.” 

In a letter, Peters requested information from the Office of the Vice President regarding the additional cost of travel, accommodations, security, and related expenses for the taxpayer-funded stay in Doonbeg. 

As Ranking Member of the Senate’s chief oversight committee, Peters has continued investigating the Administration’s pattern of wasteful travel spending, including lavish expenses on charter and first-class flights, spending taxpayer resources on travel not directly related to official government business, and using taxpayer dollars for travel during the 35-day partial government shutdown. Peters is concerned by frequent visits by the President and other Administration officials to stay at properties owned by President Trump, which creates ethical concerns, conflicts of interest, and uses taxpayer funds to directly profit the President. 

In February, Peters released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report he requested on the cost to taxpayers of President Trump’s frequent travel to his Mar-a-Lago resort. Based on GAO’s analysis, taxpayers have spent more than $80 million on the President’s trips to Mar-a-Lago. During his time in office, President Trump has spent 295 days – more than a quarter of his presidency – visiting his own luxury hotels and golf clubs. 

Last Congress, Peters led an effort to crack down on wasteful and extravagant travel spending by executive agency officials, including former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Since January 2017, five high-level officials – including four Cabinet Members – have resigned due, in part, to questionable and lavish travel spending. 

The text of the letter is copied below and available here:

September 5, 2019

 

The Honorable Mike Pence
Vice President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. Vice President:

I write with concern that, at President Trump’s “suggestion,” you decided to stay at the Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in the village of Doonbeg during your official visit to Ireland.

I am alarmed that you elected to spend taxpayer dollars for travel and lodging at President Trump’s privately-owned property – located on the other side of the country, more than 180 miles away from your meetings with government officials in Dublin. This raises serious concerns about wasteful expenditures and possible conflicts of interest related to taxpayer-funded travel by this Administration.

On September 3, you reportedly met with Ireland’s President, Michael D. Higgins, and Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Dublin. Rather than stay in Dublin, you instead spent the first two nights of your trip at President Trump’s golf club in Doonbeg. This involved not only the cost of lodging for yourself, your aides, and a protective service detail, but also considerable travel costs, including four hours in transit via motorcade and aboard Air Force Two in each direction. Citing security and logistical concerns, you and your Chief of Staff have made the claim that staying at President Trump’s resort in Doonbeg was necessary. I find it hard to believe that your office was unable to identify lodgings that could accommodate the security and logistical needs of your trip in the capital of Ireland, which houses among other locations the United States Embassy – where President Reagan stayed during his 1984 visit.

I am even more troubled by the apparent conflict of interest in your decision to stay at a property owned by President Trump, which creates the risk that taxpayer funds are being used to directly profit the President. As a public servant, you have an obligation to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest. In response to media inquiries, your office has since stated that the trip to Doonbeg was made in your personal capacity to visit family. Federal policies regarding official travel by government employees, including you, are organized around a single principle: public service is a privilege and taxpayer dollars spent on travel should be used prudently. In 2017, then Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney issued guidance regarding travel aboard government aircraft, emphasizing specifically that “beyond the law and formal policy, departments and agencies should recognize that we are public servants … Put another way, just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.”

Unfortunately, your travel to President Trump’s golf club is part of a troubling trend. Reports now claim that at least 24 of the 32 individuals who have served in the President’s Cabinet have patronized Trump properties, including the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC – another property owned by the President. President Trump still owns the Trump Organization via a trust and, under the terms of the trust, can draw income from his business at any time.

In order to better understand your decision to stay at the Trump International Golf Links & Hotel while on official travel and the total cost of this trip to American taxpayers, I respectfully request your response to the following questions as soon as possible and no later than October 1, 2019:

  1. Please provide the total cost to taxpayers of your travel to Ireland, broken out by expense category (lodging, air travel, ground travel, per diems, and other expenses), for you, your personal guests, your security detail, any government officials or employees, or others. Please also provide any underlying documentation – including travel vouchers – for this trip. 

  2. The Trump Organization has previously stated that it only charges the U.S. government “at cost and [does] not profit from” stays by government officials at properties owned by President Trump. In a public statement, your Chief of Staff, Marc Short, also stated that the government negotiated room rates with the Trump International Golf Links & Hotel.
         a. Please provide all government expenses at the Trump International Golf Links & Hotel, including any ultimately reimbursed by you.
         b. Please provide the room cost for you, your security detail, and all government officials traveling with you.
         c. Please provide comparable room costs from nearby hotels in Doonbeg and hotels in Dublin during this time period.
         d. Please indicate whether a government rate was provided during your stay at the Trump International Golf Links & Hotel.
         e. Please indicate whether your office was charged “at cost” by Trump International Golf Links & Hotel and, if so, how this has been confirmed by your office.

  3. After media inquiries, your Chief of Staff stated that you are personally paying for travel expenses attributed to your family members, who are traveling with you in Ireland. Please provide information on all expenditures by the government pertaining to travel by your family during your trip to Ireland, the amount of any reimbursement you are providing, and the date(s) of such reimbursement(s).

  4. Please state whether any analysis was conducted to compare the full costs of travel – including lodging, security, and other travel costs – for staying in Doonbeg instead of Dublin during your official visit to Ireland. If so, please provide this analysis and any underlying documentation.

I appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to your prompt response.

###