President Trump’s frustration with the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any coordination with his campaign was expressed in dollar terms Friday morning.
Trump is referring to an Associated Press report citing data recently submitted to the Justice Department by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team. Through the end of March, the price tag for Mueller’s efforts has been about $16.7 million. From October to March, the probe — which the Associated Press did not refer to as “the Russia Hoax Investigation” — cost about $1.7 million each month.
In the grand scheme of government spending, $16.7 million is … not a lot. The federal government is expected to spend about $4.1 trillion in fiscal 2018. To put it into more tangible terms, spending $16.7 million of $4.1 trillion is like making $50,000 a year and spending 20 cents.
We can also put this cost into more concrete spending terms.
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.
The dates of those trips:
- Feb. 3, 2017
- Feb. 10, 2017
- Feb. 17, 2017
- March 3, 2017
- March 17, 2017
- April 6, 2017
- April 13, 2017
- Nov. 21, 2017
- Dec. 8, 2017
- Dec. 22, 2017
- Jan. 12, 2018
- Feb. 2, 2018
- Feb. 16, 2018
- March 2, 2018
- March 23, 2018
- March 29, 2018
- April 16, 2018
Again, this is including only two subsets of the costs incurred by the federal government. It doesn’t include, Judicial Watch told the AP, things like “airlifting equipment such as the presidential limousines.” Nor does it include all the costs of protection. In July of last year, The Washington Post determined that the Coast Guard had spent about $6.6 million on guarding the beachfront-adjacent property over the course of Trump’s first five visits there. If the other visits were similarly expensive, the overall price tag essentially doubles.
Just to go to Mar-a-Lago, Judicial Watch figures that each trip Trump has made to his club in Bedminster, N.J., costs more than $40,000 in travel time alone. He’s been there nine times. He’s been to his golf club in Sterling, Va., a whopping 31 times, usually on the weekends; the costs of those trips are not included in the total.
These are all estimates. To get hard figures, we’d need more information from the White House, something that the Government Accountability Office announced last March that it was hoping to determine (as it did for Obama). Just this week, though, it was reported that the White House was stonewalling.
In a letter to the majority, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee requested a hearing to look into the White House’s failure to provide information, based on a May 9 letter from the GAO to White House counsel Donald McGahn.
“I understand that attorneys from your office and the National Security Council (NSC) will not respond to inquiries or otherwise engage with GAO staff during the course of our reviews,” that letter, from GAO general counsel Thomas Armstrong, read. “This approach represents a clear departure from past practice.”
Trump has been unusually secretive about his leisure time, generally refusing to admit that he spends much of it playing golf. This is probably partly because of the rhetoric he deployed on the campaign trail and before, when he excoriated Obama’s golfing and travel. Trump has already played more rounds of golf by our tally than Obama played in his first 39 months in office.
But the costs incurred from those trips are different. That’s public money being spent by the president — a drop in the federal budget bucket, yes, but not nothing. It’s more than, say, the cost of the Mueller investigation, probably several times over.
Then again, we understand why McGahn might have higher-priority issues to deal with.