Defense Department personnel have charged more than $300,000 at Trump-branded properties since the start of Donald Trump’s presidency through last November, according to internal agency documents obtained by CNN.
The transactions range from lodging expenses at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, to restaurant tabs at the Trump International Hotel in Washington to parking fees at the Trump National Doral Golf Club in Miami.
While all modern US presidents have traveled with military aides, the number of properties owned by Trump’s company earning money from taxpayer dollars have led some government watchdogs to argue the arrangement breaches ethical norms and potentially violates a clause of the US Constitution. Critics say Trump’s businesses should not profit from government money while he is in the White House.
The documents show defense personnel charged about $173,000 at Trump properties on their travel cards between October 2017 and November 2018. This adds to the roughly $138,000-worth of charges on Defense Department Visa cards at Trump properties between January 2017 and August 2017, as CNN previously reported.
The documents covering October 2017 through November 2018, obtained by CNN through a Freedom of Information Act request, do not specify which Pentagon employees incurred the expenses or the reason they traveled to those properties.
CNN’s original request sought records from the Office of the Secretary of Defense and its joint staff related to expenses at Trump properties, including Trump’s golf courses, his branded hotels and the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
A spokesperson for the Trump Organization said in a statement to CNN, “The Trump Organization does not profit whatsoever from any government officials staying at our properties. The rates we charge for government personnel are on an ‘at cost’ basis. There is no profit made by the Trump Organization.”
The Defense Department declined to respond to CNN’s questions about the charges and deferred to the White House Military Office, which also did not respond.
Some of the transactions appear to overlap with Trump’s travel. For example, between May and November of 2018, Defense Department officials charged nearly $79,000 to travel cards for accommodation costs at Trump’s Bedminster club.
Trump spent more than 20 days at the Bedminster club during that time, in which he hosted fundraisers and dined with supporters. He has insisted that such stays do not amount to vacations, though he has been photographed golfing.
The documents do not specify the exact dates or room rates defense personnel were charged for those stays.
The reason for other expenses is less clear. The travel-card records show 31 charges totaling about $1,600 under the category “restaurants” at the Trump International Hotel in Washington between November 2017 and November 2018. The details of those charges, and whether any could involve BLT Prime, a steakhouse located in the hotel but not owned by the Trump Organization, are also unclear in the documents.
Other expenses include about $46,000 at the Trump International Hotel in New York in January 2018 and $287 for lodging costs at Trump’s property in Doonbeg, Ireland, in October 2017.
Because Trump transferred his business holdings into a trust while he serves as President but did not divest his assets, he stands to accrue profits from those holdings when he leaves office.
The Defense Department expenses add to payments from other government agencies at Trump Properties. CNN previously reported that the US Secret Service paid Mar-a-Lago $63,700 between about February and April of 2017.
Separately, a document obtained by the transparency group called Property of the People shows Mar-a-Lago in 2017 billed the Coast Guard $1,092 for a two-night stay at the rack rate, an industry term that usually suggests it is the non-discounted price for a hotel room.
Walter Shaub, a former head of the Office of Government Ethics and frequent critic of Trump, argues the President should stop “vacationing” at his own properties to avoid the appearance that he seeks to profit from his presidency. Shaub also told CNN other government officials should know better than to spend taxpayer money at Trump properties if they can avoid it.
“You see charges like this and wonder, is part of his motivation to travel to his own properties that the government will spend money that will be funneled back to him?” Shaub asked. “He has not separated his business life from his government responsibilities but actually seems to seek opportunities to merge the two.”
A lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland, both Democrats, claims Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution that bans gifts from foreign and domestic governments since he maintains a stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington. According to court documents, the Trump administration argues that the lawsuit is causing the President harm and would interfere with the separation of powers.
In March, three federal appeals court judges in Virginia indicated at a hearing they were skeptical of the suit, and one judge asked whether the suit was politically motivated. Those judges have not yet ruled on whether the suit can move forward. Attorneys for the Justice Department argued in the hearing that the president can’t be sued while in office.
Separate from that lawsuit, Trump’s personal attorney Sheri Dillon argued before Trump’s inauguration that a government payment for something like a hotel bill does not qualify as an emolument because “it would have been thought of as a value-for-value exchange; not a gift, not a title, and not an emolument.”
Trump isn’t the only White House official to have owned properties that received payments from government agencies while in office. Federal contracting data show the Secret Service paid about $170,000 to rent former Vice President Joe Biden’s property in Wilmington, Delaware, between 2011 and 2017.
A spokesperson for Biden did not respond to requests for comment.