Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued a report last week that put a price tag on his investigation into the Russia scandal: about $17 million. Not surprisingly, the figure led Donald Trump to complain about the cost of the probe, over and over and over again in the days that followed.
Presidential whining notwithstanding, there are a couple of constructive ways to look at the investment. Perhaps the most obvious is that the bang for the buck in Mueller's probe is actually pretty impressive given the seriousness of the scandal and the number of indictments and guilty pleas he's secured. Trump may call this "the World's most expensive Witch Hunt," but as one fact-check piece explained this morning, "[T]he Mueller team's spending rate so far is in line with historical trends, if not below them."
Ken Starr's Whitewater probe, for example, cost more than $107 million in inflation-adjusted dollars, and it uncovered far less wrongdoing.
But the Washington Post's Philip Bump looked at this from a slightly different angle and uncovered an interesting point of comparison.
Shortly after Trump took office, there was a report from Politico estimating that his trips to his private club in Florida ran upward of $3 million a pop. It was later determined that this number was almost certainly too high, given that it was based on a Government Accountability Office tally for a trip taken by President Barack Obama that included a stop in Chicago. The conservative group Judicial Watch, which calculated similar figures for Obama's presidency, told the AP that it figured each trip to Mar-a-Lago cost about $1 million, including only Air Force One travel and Secret Service protection.Guess what. Trump has been to Mar-a-Lago 17 times, for a grand total of $17 million in flight and protection costs.
And as a practical matter, that's a very conservative estimate -- which doesn't include the taxpayer-financed expense of transporting the presidential limousine and covering Coast Guard expenses around Trump's Florida club.
What's more, as Bump's piece makes clear, it also doesn't include the costs associated with the president's other trips to his private club in New Jersey.
If we can afford to foot the bill for Trump's ethically dubious travel, we can afford Mueller' examination of one of the most important scandals in American history.