Coast Guard pro­tects Mar-a-Lago even as it de­lays fleet re­pairs, records show

The Washington Post Sunday - - NEWS - BY DREW HARWELL drew.harwell@wash­post.com

As the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion threat­ened hefty bud­get cuts for the U.S. Coast Guard, the mil­i­tary ser­vice was spend­ing more than $6.6 mil­lion pro­tect­ing the pres­i­dent’s wa­ter­front Mar-a-Lago Club dur­ing his seven week­end trips there this spring, doc­u­ments show.

The Coast Guard de­ployed cut­ters, pa­trol boats, he­li­copters and anti-ter­ror­ism spe­cial­ists from across the coun­try to safe­guard the Palm Beach, Fla., es­tate.

The de­ploy­ments came as Coast Guard lead­ers, brac­ing for pos­si­ble bud­get cuts, have ar­gued that the cash-strapped ser­vice has made painful sac­ri­fices — let­ting some il­le­gal drug ship­ments go and de­lay­ing cer­tain re­pairs to its fleet.

The records, re­leased Thurs­day to The Wash­ing­ton Post in re­sponse to a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest, of­fer a glimpse into the in­tri­cate costs and de­mands for a mil­i­tary force tasked with de­fend­ing the pres­i­dent dur­ing his fre­quent get­aways to his pri­vate busi­nesses.

The records also high­light how tax­pay­ers have helped fi­nance the un­usu­ally elab­o­rate life­style of Trump and his fam­ily in ways that can also ben­e­fit his com­pany. In this case, Mar-a-Lago, which Trump has dubbed a “Win­ter White House,” is also a for-profit, mem­bers-only club.

The Coast Guard has pro­vided se­cu­rity for past pres­i­dents along­side the U.S. Se­cret Ser­vice, in­clud­ing guard­ing for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama dur­ing trips such as his an­nual fam­ily va­ca­tions to Hawaii, but of­fi­cials could not im­me­di­ately pro­vide es­ti­mates for those costs.

When Obama spent a week­end in South Florida in 2013, the Coast Guard spent about $586,000 to cover pa­trol, travel and lodg­ing costs, ac­cord­ing to a Govern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice re­port last year.

The spend­ing at Mar-a-Lago, which comes to close to $1 mil­lion for each trip, ap­pears to col­lide with the pres­i­dent’s pledges of trim­ming govern­ment costs.

The Coast Guard spent more than $17.8 mil­lion on pres­i­den­tial se­cu­rity costs be­tween Oc­to­ber and March, of­fer­ing air and wa­ter­side pa­trols for high-level events dur­ing the Obama and Trump ad­min­is­tra­tions. That cost was up from $15.1 mil­lion in the same pe­riod end­ing in March 2016, and $10.7 mil­lion for the pe­riod end­ing in March 2015, Coast Guard records show.

The Se­cret Ser­vice re­quested Coast Guard pro­tec­tion for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago vis­its, which are clas­si­fied as “na­tional spe­cial se­cu­rity events,” Coast Guard of­fi­cials said. The club has rep­re­sented an ex­pen­sive chal­lenge for the ser­vice, which pa­trols the airspace above the es­tate as well as its two coast­lines along the At­lantic Ocean and the In­tra­coastal Wa­ter­way.

The Coast Guard’s mis­sions — in­clud­ing drug in­ter­dic­tions and port pa­trols — sit at the cen­ter of some of Trump’s big­gest cam­paign prom­ises, in­clud­ing stricter im­mi­gra­tion and home­land se­cu­rity. But lead­ers say the mil­i­tary branch has strug­gled to com­plete its mis­sion while faced with a tight­en­ing bud­get and ag­ing fleet.

The Coast Guard’s com­man­dant, Adm. Paul Zukunft, tes­ti­fied be­fore a House sub­com­mit­tee Tues­day that the branch was “de­fer­ring main­te­nance” and run­ning cut­ters and air­craft long be­yond their re­tire­ment age be­cause it needed more fund­ing.

The Coast Guard’s spend­ing ac­counts for a small frac­tion of the mil­i­tary se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus that has en­cir­cled Trump dur­ing jour­neys to his pri­vate clubs and golf cour­ses. Congress this year al­lo­cated roughly $120 mil­lion in ad­di­tional fund­ing to help cover the Se­cret Ser­vice’s pres­i­den­tial travel and pro­tec­tion, as well as “ex­tra­or­di­nary law en­force­ment per­son­nel costs” in­curred by lo­cal gov­ern­ments dur­ing Trump’s trips.

The White House did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. Of­fi­cials have in the past de­fended the costs as nec­es­sary to safe­guard the pres­i­dent’s work, with White House spokes­woman Stephanie Gr­isham say­ing in Fe­bru­ary, “He is not va­ca­tion­ing when he goes to Mar-a-Lago. The pres­i­dent works non­stop ev­ery day of the week, no mat­ter where he is.”

Coast Guard ser­vice mem­bers, spe­cial­ists, pilots and en­gi­neers spent thou­sands of hours on pa­trol or sup­port du­ties around the time of the pres­i­dent’s 25 days at Mar-a-Lago be­tween Fe­bru­ary and April, records show.

Gun-mounted re­sponse boats manned by four-per­son tac­ti­cal crews spent 1,866 hours on the wa­ter, or more than 77 full days, at a cost of about $2.8 mil­lion, the doc­u­ments show.

They were joined by larger wa­ter­craft, in­clud­ing an 87-foot Ma­rine Pro­tec­tor-class pa­trol boat and a 154-foot fast-re­sponse cut­ter.

On land, teams of ar­mory staff, me­chan­ics and elec­tron­ics spe­cial­ists worked to keep the boats run­ning and armed. Over­head, H-65 Dol­phin he­li­copters, tra­di­tion­ally used for wa­ter res­cues, flew for 135 hours so as to in­ter­cept low- and slow-fly­ing air­craft, at a cost of about $7,885 an hour.

Spe­cial anti-ter­ror­ism units, known as Mar­itime Safety and Se­cu­rity Teams, also de­ployed to Mar-a-Lago from Mi­ami, New Or­leans, Hous­ton, Bos­ton, New York and a naval sub­ma­rine base in south­east­ern Ge­or­gia. Flights, mileage, lodg­ing and other ex­penses for Coast Guard ser­vice mem­bers pa­trolling the seven Mar-a-Lago vis­its ex­ceeded $720,000.

Trump gave up day-to-day man­age­ment of Mar-a-Lago but still owns the pri­vate club, which took in $37.2 mil­lion in re­sort-re­lated rev­enue be­tween Jan­uary 2016 and April 2017, fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sures show.

The White House in March pro­posed slash­ing the Coast Guard’s bud­get by 14 per­cent, trig­ger­ing alarms among mil­i­tary lead­ers, be­fore promis­ing that it would in­stead keep the branch’s bud­get to “cur­rent fund­ing lev­els.”

The pres­i­dent’s lat­est pro­posal, de­liv­ered to Congress in May, cuts the Coast Guard’s bud­get by 2.4 per­cent, or about $267 mil­lion.

The Coast Guard, Zukunft said in April, has re­ceived no ex­tra fund­ing to help cover the costs of “pro­tect­ing the ap­proaches to Mar-a-Lago on both coasts … (and) in the air.” Ser­vice of­fi­cials said the Pres­i­den­tial Pro­tec­tion As­sis­tance Act re­stricts them from seek­ing re­im­burse­ment for costs as­so­ci­ated with sup­port­ing pres­i­den­tial se­cu­rity.

The Coast Guard is one of sev­eral tax-funded agen­cies in­volved in the pro­tec­tion of the pres­i­dent’s pri­vate club. Palm Beach County of­fi­cials said they spent more than $60,000 a day to­ward costs such as deputy over­time when Trump was in town this past spring.

Trump’s in­ter­est in wa­ter­front ex­cur­sions has taxed the Coast Guard in other ways. The ser­vice walked back plans this week that for­bid recre­ational pad­dlers and boaters from skim­ming two miles of the Po­tomac River near the Trump golf club when the pres­i­dent is play­ing there.

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