Senator Threatens to Hold Back Air Force Nominee Over Trump Resort Stays

Secretary of the Air Force Nominee Barbara Barrett testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee, as a part of the confirmation process, Sept 12, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Air Force/Wayne Clark)
Secretary of the Air Force Nominee Barbara Barrett testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee, as a part of the confirmation process, Sept 12, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Air Force/Wayne Clark)

A Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee says he intends to oppose the confirmation of President Donald Trump's nominee for Air Force secretary over concerns about overnight lodging stays by U.S. airmen at the president's Turnberry resort in Scotland.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut announced Wednesday that he intends to place a hold on Barbara Barrett's confirmation unless she assures the committee she will "implement a policy to prohibit Air Force spending at Trump-owned properties" after she is confirmed.

"Our military budget is not President Trump's personal piggy bank," Blumenthal said in a news release. "Ambassador Barrett refused to provide a clear commitment to ending unnecessary Air Force spending at President Trump's lavish Scottish hotel. This is unacceptable, especially for a service secretary in an administration run by Grifter-in-Chief Donald Trump."

In a letter to committee chairman and ranking member Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, and Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, Blumenthal also said he believes Barrett, who previously served as the U.S. Ambassador to Finland under President George W. Bush, may not have the credentials to be the service's 25th secretary.

Related: Senator Wants SecAF Nominee to Issue New Guidance on Trump Property Stays

"Ambassador Barrett additionally lacks many of the traditional credentials expected of the Secretary of the Air Force, and I was disappointed by her responses to questions during her office visit and public testimony -- factors that have also contributed to my uncertainty about her ability to lead the Air Force," he wrote, without specifying what experience he believes she lacks.

The latest news comes after the revelation that the Pentagon has spent nearly $200,000 at Turnberry since Trump became president in 2017. The figure was first reported by Politico.

In a letter from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to Defense Secretary Mark Esper dated Sept. 18, committee members wrote that the Defense Department's response to their query was "belated and deficient," but said that the Pentagon revealed total military spending at Turnberry could be "more than $184,000" if calculating in unspecified charges unrelated to hotel rooms.

The committee sent a request to Esper in June requesting documents by July 8. The Pentagon finally released a 21-page document to lawmakers Sept. 12, the letter states.

Last week, the Air Force said it had reviewed "the vast majority of the 659 overnight stays of Air Force crews in the vicinity at Glasgow Prestwick Airport between 2015 and 2019, [and] approximately six percent of those crews stayed at the Trump Turnberry."

"As a practice, we generally send aircrews to the closest, most suitable accommodations within the government hotel rate. The review also indicated that about 75 percent of the crews stayed in the immediate vicinity of the airfield and 18 percent stayed in Glasgow," an Air Force spokeswoman said.

The service referred questions pertaining to costs and the committee's letter to the DoD. The Defense Department did not respond to Military.com's request for comment by press time.

During her confirmation hearing Sept. 12, Barrett demurred on whether she would issue a sweeping policy, but said any guidance should keep the appearance of propriety in mind. Blumenthal then voiced his displeasure with her answers.

In March, a C-17 Globemaster III crew, consisting of seven active-duty and National Guard crew members from Alaska, stayed at Turnberry while en route to Kuwait; they only landed at Prestwick airport in Scotland on the return trip to the U.S.

That stop in Scotland prompted the oversight committee to investigate whether U.S. military stays have boosted Turnberry's revenue.

The Air Force has not issued any recent directives prohibiting business with establishments connected to Trump, and it remains unclear whether the DoD will consider a military-wide policy.

But the service did launch an internal investigation to review its U.S. Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command travel logs to see where and how often its aircrew members stay on layovers and whether the associated guidance should be updated.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and Acting Air Force Secretary Matt Donovan expect an answer within 30 days, according to a Sept. 9 memo.

Blumenthal is not the only lawmaker pressing the issue.

"This is a scandal," Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia, said via Twitter on Thursday.

"Huge amounts of US taxpayer dollars are flowing directly into the pockets of the President. The Founders expressly forbade this kind of corruption in the Constitution's Emoluments Clause. Congress can stop it by passing our amendment," he wrote.

The clause is intended to keep the president from receiving any benefit from government beyond a set salary. Beyer and a few other Democrats have co-sponsored a measure in the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that aims to block the DoD from spending money at any of the president's 50-plus properties around the world.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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