Travel records released Friday indicate that President Trump’s personal and political flights cost the government more than $13.5 million in his first 8.5 months in office — a rate that over eight years likely would exceed former President Barack Obama's costs for nonofficial travel.
The information includes U.S. Air Force costs through Oct. 1 released to conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.
The most recent records include a nearly $1 million weekend in late September when Trump campaigned for Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, who went on to lose the Republican primary that state.
Trump spent 6.8 hours on Air Force One that weekend, at a $142,380-per-hour cost. The $968,184 bill includes round-trip flights between Morristown Municipal Airport in New Jersey and Huntsville, Ala., and a flight from New Jersey to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
Trump's $13.5 million travel tally over 8.5 months is inexact, depending on Judicial Watch’s subjective judgment about how to classify trips as leisure or political.
Some trips have dual purposes, and the most recent batch of trips doesn’t yet include Secret Service costs. Other costs — such as those for a trio of Marine Corps helicopters that transport Trump to and from airports — aren’t included.
“There are always additional costs that you can ask for, but we’ve tried to keep an apples-to-apples comparison to the previous administration,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
“The media during the Trump administration became obsessed with the issue, and there’s no cost above analysis now," Fitton said. "There was not similar interest during President Obama’s terms.”
Political and leisure travel totaled $114 million during Obama's eight years, according to records acquired by Judicial Watch. Trump’s $13.5 million over about 8.5 months — likely to be higher when Secret Service costs are calculated — would total more than $152 million if the same rate of travel holds over eight years.
Trump’s frequent weekend trips to his properties — Trump National Golf Club in Bedminister, N.J., and Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. — have not led to vastly higher travel spending, Fitton said, because “Florida’s a lot closer than Hawaii,” where the Obama family often vacationed. The hourly cost of operating Air Force One has also dropped in recent years, he added.
Although possibly on pace to exceed Obama's costs, Fitton said he believes Trump has grown more conservative about traveling on the weekend in response to concern about cost.
He added that he believes Trump works more on his weekends away and that dual work-pleasure trips included in the $13.5 million total include a $583,758 round-trip flight to Florida in April when Trump hosted Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
The travel cost records, Fitton stressed, includes only "the flights we asked for" and "arguably we're being more exacting with President Trump."
Political campaigns do reimburse the government for a small fraction of the cost of using Air Force One for political trips. A reimbursement formula allows the president to repay for such flights at a rate similar to charter flights.
Federal Election Commission records, available through mid-August, show that Trump’s campaign for re-election has repaid more than $115,000 for flights. Additional reimbursement information is expected to become available Jan. 31.
Some of the larger reimbursements from the Trump campaign are in amounts around $20,000, possibly for flights aboard Air Force One.
“The commission does not have additional details beyond what has been reported by the committee and made public through the agency's website,” said FEC spokesman Christian Hilland.
Richard Painter, formerly the chief White House ethics official under President George W. Bush, said the reimbursement formula results in repayment that “is probably less than what it should be,” but presidential use of government aircraft is arguably necessary and something that’s standard and relatively transparent from administration to administration.
Fitton said he believes the formula for political trip reimbursement is “woefully insufficient” and a long-running “indirect subsidy” to the political party that holds the presidency. Fitton said he sees it as impractical for the president to reimburse taxpayers for personal travel, but said it may be time to re-evaluate whether Air Force One is needed. A charter flight for the president and commercial tickets for staff may work just as well, he said.
“Does the Air Force need to use Air Force One to bring him down to Florida? I don't think so,” Fitton said.