Donald Trump is now a tenant in a government-owned building. Soon he may be the federal government’s landlord, as well.
The Department of Defense told CNN on Tuesday night that it is considering renting space in Trump Tower, the New York City high-rise that Donald Trump calls home and in which his wife, Melania, and son Barron have decided to remain for the time being. “In order to meet official mission requirements, the Department of Defense is working through appropriate channels and in accordance with all applicable legal requirements in order to acquire a limited amount of leased space in Trump Tower,” Lt. Col. JB Brindle, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement. “The space is necessary for the personnel and equipment who will support the POTUS at his residence in the building.”
The Pentagon has made similar arrangements in the past, including at the Chicago home of President Obama. Military support staff—including those in charge of the “nuclear football”—needs to stay close to the president regardless of where he travels, and it appears President Trump will be returning to his Manhattan home relatively often. The obvious difference in this case, though, is that President Trump owns Trump Tower, meaning he stands to profit directly from any lease in his building. The DOD may not be his only governmental tenant either.
Late last year, the Secret Service was reportedly considering renting out at least one floor at Trump Tower from which to run intelligence and surveillance operations while Trump is in office. Again, this isn’t entirely unique: The agency previously had to lease space near George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, and near Bill and Hillary Clinton’s home in Chappaqua, New York, for similar reasons. But once again the difference in this case is that the taxpayers’ rent checks would end up in a Trump bank account. (Estimates vary, but a single floor at Trump Tower is said to cost anywhere between $700,000 and $1.5 million a year. The Secret Service and the DOD, meanwhile, appear to be captive customers and would have little if any leverage given their dearth of alternative options.)
The problem—or opportunity, if you’re a Trump—doesn’t end there. The president’s security detail travels with him when he visits other properties his company owns or operates, including Mar-a-Lago, where he spent this past weekend and where he has suggested he’ll return again this coming one to play a round of golf with Japan’s prime minister. It stands to reason that the Secret Service needs to reserve its own space for agents and support staff, whether by paying for guest rooms at the private club or renting alternative space at the Palm Beach resort on a longer-term basis. Either would almost certainly contribute to the Trump Organization’s bottom line. (The agency refuses to discuss such logistics citing security concerns. “The Secret Service does not provide information related to our protective operations,” a spokesperson told Slate on Tuesday when asked about Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago.)
As we’ve already seen, the Trump family views the presidency as one big marketing opportunity. Donald Trump has done his best to rebrand Mar-a-Lago the “Winter White House,” not incidentally at the same time his club has doubled new membership fees. Eric Trump recently traveled to Uruguay to help sell luxury condos there that bear the family name, a sales pitch that was undoubtedly strengthened by the presence of Secret Service and diplomatic staff that made it difficult to separate Trump business from the Trump administration. And Melania Trump admitted in a lawsuit filed just this week that she views her time as first lady as “unique, once-in-a-lifetime” business opportunity.
That is all incredibly troubling. But what we’re seeing evidence of now is that Trump stands to profit not just indirectly from being in the White House, but also directly off U.S. taxpayers. All he has to do to make that happen is hop on Air Force One and head to a Trump-branded property. His customers, he knows, will have no other choice than to follow.