The Slatest

Donald Trump’s Company Charged the Government $3 to Serve Him a Glass of Water

Trump gestures while Abe listens as the two are seated on a cream-colored couch in an ornate living room. Two American and two Japanese flags are behind the men.
Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe on April 17, 2018, at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida—the site of the $3 water. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold is back with more reporting on the subject that he covers better than anyone else in the world, namely, the bogus methods by which Donald Trump funnels money to himself.* In Tuesday’s piece, Fahrenthold lists some of the line items that make up the $2.5 million that has been paid (that we know of) to the Trump Organization by the U.S. government during the tenure of U.S. chief executive Donald Trump. Here is the best one, involving Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe:


When Trump and Abe met at Mar-a-Lago, their first meeting was a brief one on the couch in Mar-a-Lago’s central living room. The two men shook hands for the press, and made brief remarks about what they hoped the summit would achieve.

There was no food served. No private room to rent. Seemingly, nothing to charge for.

But Mar-a-Lago still sent the government a bill.

“Bilateral meeting,” the bill said. “Water.” The price was $3 each, including service charge. 


Let’s do some extremely back-of-the-envelope math about the costs involved here using figures found via Google:

• Price of a glass worth of tap water: less than one cent.

• Price of the glass: Also less than one cent, assuming you could buy one at wholesale for about a dollar and use it for a year before it broke.


• Price of labor: About 50 cents, assuming it took someone earning $20 an hour one minute to fill the glass and walk it over to the table and someone else earning the same wage about 30 seconds to wash and dry it.

• Share of utilities: If we assume that the fancy living room pictured above is about the size of the average Florida residence, and use this estimate of the average monthly Florida utility bill, and assume that the event in the living room took one hour, the amount that you would charge Abe and Trump per glass of water to cover their use of the room would be 32 cents.

In total, the president charged the United States something like a 400 percent markup for his glass of water. While the competition for such a distinction—given Trump’s record of fraudulent charities, fraudulent businesses, and government graft—is stiff, Slate would like to propose that, going forward, this be considered the iconic and canonical example of Donald Trump corruption.

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Correction, Oct. 27, 2020: This post originally misspelled David Fahrenthold’s last name.