Maddow's Hot Story on Trump-Dealing Military 'Markups' Fell Apart

September 15th, 2019 6:56 AM

Rachel Maddow touted another Trump scandal on September 6, that the Air Force was putting "taxpayer money directly into the president's pocket" by using Glasgow Prestwick Airport near his Turnberry resort in Scotland. These were the "facts" she presented: 

MADDOW: But now, in addition he's got this money-losing goal resort in Scotland that was about to lose the money-losing airport that serviced it. I mean, the golf course is already having really tough times. If they lose the nearest airport, too? 

But now miraculously, now that Donald Trump is president, American military cargo planes have started refueling at that airport, at a significant price markup Right? It's much cheaper for them to get their fuel at military bases. That's part of the reason they always stop at military bases.

Also, they're the military. They're no longer stopping at military bases. Instead, they're stopping at the airport that Trump needs to prop up in order to keep his Scottish golf resort going, and paying full freight commercial airport rates for that fuel.

Maddow was touting a Politico story by Natasha Bertrand, who is also an MSNBC contributor. Bertrand told Maddow "I think we at Politico were still trying to absorb it as we finished the story. I mean, it was probably one of the most remarkably brazen, you know, instances of this kind of self-dealing and grift that we have seen in the Trump era."

Don't believe the hype. Byron York of the Washington Examiner challenged this story on September 9, which was based on a single anecdote of one flight: "The only problem with the Politico story was that it was not the whole story. In fact, it omitted so much important information that it hardly qualified as a story at all." 

The first thing to note is that a public database shows the Air Force signed a contract for refuelings at Prestwick in 2016, before the Trump administration entered office. In addition, Air Force planes made many stops at Prestwick before President Trump. According to information provided by Air Force officials, planes stopped at Prestwick 95 times in 2015, 145 times in 2016, 180 times in 2017, 257 times in 2018, and 259 times through August 2019.

In a statement, the Air Force stressed efficiency:

Prestwick's 24-hour-a-day operations make it a more viable option for aircraft traveling to and from the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility compared to other military stopover locations that have imposed increasingly restrictive operating hours. Additionally, Air Mobility Command [AMC] issued a flight directive to mobility crews in June 2017 designed to increase efficiencies by standardizing routing locations, with Prestwick being among the top five locations recommended for reasons such as more favorable weather than nearby Shannon Airport, and less aircraft parking congestion than locations on the European continent that typically support AMC's high priority airlift missions.

The Air Force also said that Prestwick "has been contracted by DoD for fuel at standardized prices," so there goes  Maddow's "markup" claims. 

York also suggested that the government could gain efficiencies from staying at Trump's resort. A report from the State Department's Inspector General Steve Linick found that for State Department personnel who accompanied the president on a trip, it was cheaper than Glasgow hotels: 

During the visit, Linick said, State rented three rooms at Turnberry for two nights. The total cost was $728. Citing invoices from the hotel, Linick said the room rate for the night was 95.06 pounds, or $121.40, per night. Linick said the State Department looked at other hotels, including the Blythswood Square Hotel in Glasgow, which charged 215 pounds per night; the Hilton Glasgow, which charged 249 pounds; the Hilton Glasgow Grosvenor at 229 pounds; the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow at 185 pounds; and the Raddison Blu in Glasgow at 179 pounds per night. Other State Department employees detailed to the president’s trip stayed at some of those hotels.

It appears that, at least on the president's trip, Turnberry was a good deal. Nevertheless, the publicity surrounding the new story appears to have made the Air Force nervous.

There's no question that Trump's ownership of resort properties creates conflict-of-interest questions and bureaucratic headaches when they naturally spur news stories. But the media need to be accurate, and revise and correct their story when it falls apart. Instead, sloppy Maddow didn't update her story, except to report on September 9 that these arrangements have scandalized the Trump-haters in Scottish politics: 

MADDOW: [T]he U.S. military suddenly doing this rapidly expanding amount of business with this random Scottish airport and the domestic embarrassment of that government-owned airport in Scotland near the president's golf course being in business partnership with the president's resort. Scottish government is really, really, really, really anti-Trump. And you're not going to win any votes in Scotland by being pro-Trump. For the Scottish government to own this airport that's doing all this business with the U.S. military is a domestic scandal of its own.