Toward the end of last night's Democratic presidential primary debate, Pete Buttigieg reminded the audience that Americans currently have a president "who seems to treat troops as props, or worse, tools for his own enrichment. We saw what's going on with flights apparently being routed through Scotland just so people can stay at his hotels? I'll tell you, as a military officer, the very first thing that goes through your mind, the first time you ever make eye contact with somebody that you are responsible for in uniform, is do not let these men and women down. This president is doing exactly that."
The comments were well timed: just as the Democratic debate was getting underway, Politico published an interesting new report on the simmering controversy:
The U.S. Air Force has lodged crews at President Donald Trump's Scotland resort up to 40 times since 2015, a figure that is far higher than previously known.The tally represents the preliminary results of an Air Force review launched after POLITICO reported last week that an Air National Guard crew stayed at Turnberry in March. Congressional Democrats have also been investigating military stays at the property, but have yet to receive any information from the Pentagon.
While this advances the story, there are some elements to this that we do not yet know. For example, we learned this week that some of the U.S. military stops at the Prestwick Airport -- about 20 miles away from Trump's struggling business -- predated the Republican's presidency. That didn't negate the burgeoning controversy, since the flights to the airport Trump is eager to prop up went up considerably after he took office, but it's a relevant detail.
And with this in mind, if U.S. servicemen and women stayed at the Trump-owned Turnberry Luxury Collection Resort 40 times, and all or nearly all of the visits occurred during the Obama era, there'd be fewer questions about possible abuses.
But if all or nearly all of the visits occurred after Trump became president -- or if the total jumped from one administration to the next -- we're right back where we started, wondering about a possible scheme to put money in the sitting president's pocket, while bolstering an airport the president's business needs to survive.
Of course, if the lines between Trump the president and Trump the businessman were clearer, and there weren't so many concerns about the Republican trying to profit from his office, unprecedented controversies like these wouldn't even come up.
For his part, Trump addressed the matter on Twitter this week, insisting he doesn't know anything about the Scottish stops, adding, "NOTHING TO DO WITH ME."
I've seen no proof to the contrary, though the Republican has used the "nothing to do with me" phrase on several occasions, and on multiple occasions, the president's denials were false.