AP FACT CHECK: White House opaque on Trump’s travel costs

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says staying at his central New Jersey home causes less disruption than if he had spent the weekend at Trump Tower in New York, and saves taxpayers money. But does it?

On Friday the president tweeted, “Rather than causing a big disruption in N.Y.C., I will be working out of my home in Bedminster, N.J. this weekend. Also saves country money!” He’d arrived late Thursday at his home on his private golf course in the central New Jersey town of rolling hills and horse farms about 40 miles west of New York City.

He followed with a second tweet Saturday: “The reason I am staying in Bedminster, N.J., a beautiful community, is that staying in NYC is much more expensive and disruptive. Meetings!”

Trump is right that Manhattan gets tied in knots whenever the president or any other high-ranking dignitary visits. Roads are closed and access to the places where events are held is severely restricted, forcing New Yorkers to make detours that lengthen their already harried commutes. Law enforcement personnel flood those areas to provide security.

But the White House makes it hard for taxpayers to know anything about the costs. Trump and his aides are mum when asked for an accounting. Past attempts by government auditors to gauge the costs of presidential travel have been sketchy, fragmentary and outdated.

In a recent Fox News interview, Trump contended that when he stays at his homes in New Jersey or at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, it causes less disruption and requires fewer security personnel because the properties are larger and easier to secure than if he were staying at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

In the first months of his term Trump has spent about half of his weekends at Mar-a-Lago, his private club. It is scheduled to close for the season next week, and the president is expected to shift weekend getaways to New Jersey.

Flying to either Florida or New Jersey for the weekend is a president’s personal choice, but spending weekends away from the round-the-clock security of the White House adds to the cost to taxpayers.

It costs roughly $200,000 an hour to fly Air Force One, the modified Boeing 747 that the president typically travels on. There’s also the cost of flying the presidential limousine or SUV to Trump’s destination ahead of time so he can be whisked away when he lands.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the cost is a built-in part of the presidency. “The bottom line is the president is the president no matter where he goes. And he doesn’t get to control the level of costs in security that may come along with that.”

While presidential security is dictated by the U.S. Secret Service, presidents do have control over where they conduct business, and Huckabee Sanders asserted that taking his team to New Jersey rather than New York saves money.

The mayor of Bedminster said a weekend trip there by Trump when he was still the president-elect cost nearly $4,000 in police overtime. With heightened security requirements now that Trump is president, Bedminster has estimated that it could spend $12,000 per day on his visits, and up to $300,000 over the course of the summer.

The New York Police Department has said it spends up to $146,000 a day to protect first lady Melania Trump and their son, Barron, living at Trump Tower until the school year ends. That’s estimated to more than double when the president is there, officials said.

Palm Beach County, Florida, spends more than $60,000 a day when the president visits, mostly for law enforcement overtime.

A $1 trillion spending bill Trump signed Friday while in Bedminster includes $61 million to reimburse law enforcement agencies for the costs of protecting Trump and his family when they are at his private properties in New York and Florida. The bill would cover expenses incurred at Trump Tower and the Mar-a-Lago resort from the Nov. 8 election through September.

That bill also adds $58 million for additional Secret Service costs such as rent in Trump Tower and housing for agents at Mar-a-Lago.

Trump made it a point to suggest that he was working while in New Jersey, ending one of the tweets with “Meetings!”

A group of senior Trump advisers got off of Air Force One after it landed in New York, where Trump met Thursday night with Australia’s prime minister and delivered a speech, but it was unclear whether any traveled with him to Bedminster. A photo of Trump playing golf Saturday appeared on social media.

Asked earlier Saturday whether Trump planned to play golf, the White House said only that he was having meetings and making calls. The White House did not respond to a later email seeking confirmation that he played golf after the photo surfaced.

It is the White House’s practice to refuse to acknowledge that Trump played golf, even after photos of him at play on the course are published.

As a candidate, Trump excoriated President Barack Obama for playing golf almost every weekend when he was at the White House, and sometimes when he was out of town, and for not using those outings to conduct business. Obama’s aides readily acknowledged that he was playing golf and regularly named the members of his foursome.