Dallas: When Donald Trump was mulling a run for the White House back in 2000, Fortune magazine reported that he had combined his political appearances with 10 paid speeches for motivational guru Tony Robbins, so he could earn money while assessing a candidacy.
“It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it,” Trump told the magazine. The sentiment may prove prescient.
Electing a US president who is also a billionaire can carry all sorts of novel complications. One, for example, is Donald Trump’s fleet of two airplanes and three helicopters (including a Sikorsky S-76 featured last year on a television segment called “Pimp My Chopper”).
When it comes to political campaigns, the US Secret Service pays for agent travel, be it on aircraft, trains, boats or automobile. The campaigns of both Trump and Hillary Clinton have been paid a total of $5.45 million for flying agents around, according to the last tally available from the Federal Election Commission. Of that, $2.74 million was attributable to protecting Trump.
Unlike Clinton, Trump didn’t need to charter an airplane since he flew on his own jets. As a result, while the Secret Service chipped in for its share of what the Clinton campaign paid to charter a plane, when it came to Trump’s campaign, the federal agency effectively just paid him.
For travel on Trump’s black-and-red Boeing 757 and Cessna Citation jet, the candidate’s aviation company TAG Air Inc. has raked in almost $6 million, Politico reported. These payments, Secret Service spokesman Joe Casey said, accord with FEC rules specifying that those travelling with a campaign—including the news media—must pay for their travel.
Trump’s aircraft fleet is just a microcosm of the numerous potential conflicts his transition team must navigate, given the extent of the president-elect’s business interests. Once they take office, Trump, vice president-elect Mike Pence and their wives will travel on US military aircraft. What’s not clear is how their seven adult children, their spouses or any other relatives will travel if they are under federal protection. If they’re travelling with Trump or Pence, they’ll likely fly on Air Force One or Air Force Two. At other times, however, Trump’s children might fly on a private jet—potentially one Trump owns.
The Secret Service does not discuss the status of protection for specific people, Casey said. The law specifying the Service’s duties authorizes protection “for the immediate family members” of the president and vice-president. Trump’s four oldest children live in New York; Pence has two adult daughters, and a son in the US Marine Corps. Trump also has a 10-year-old son, Barron, who will live at the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama’s mother, for example, lived at the White House but did not have Secret Service protection unless she was with her daughter or granddaughters.
For any of the Trump or Pence clans assigned a protective detail due to safety risks—and the rancour of the 2016 vote could well produce many—Secret Service travel on a Trump-owned plane means the agency would need to reimburse the aircraft’s owner. In this case, the president.
“So then you have government money going into the pockets of the president and his children,” said Brett Kappel, a lawyer who specializes in political finance and ethics at Akerman LLP. The Trump transition team did not respond to email requests seeking comment. The Trump family has also hired private security guards, although it is unclear how Trump’s election will affect the extent of private security used. The Secret Service has assumed full authority for protecting the president-elect and vice-president elect, including a new no-fly zone the Federal Aviation Administration has established until 21 January over Trump’s Manhattan residence.
And unlike the taxpayer funds used to reimburse political campaigns for travel, which the Secret Service reports to the FEC, its security travel costs for an elected official, visiting dignitary or other protectee, are part of its normal operating budget and not subject to disclosure. So the cost of flying agents on Trump planes after the election probably won’t be publicly disclosed.
“There’s a going to be a bunch of unique situations because of president Trump’s extensive business holdings,” Kappel said. “We’ve never had a president in the modern era that has had a situation like this.” Bloomberg