Why is Trump corporate chopper at Mar-a-Lago?

A helicopter with Trump signage on it sits on the helipad at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach Saturday morning, December 23, 2017. (Photo: Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

For over a week, a private helicopter bearing the Trump logo and name has sat on the helipad at Mar-a-Lago -- a helipad that is supposed to be used only for presidential business.

Until Donald Trump became president, aircraft were forbidden from landing in the exclusive island town. But when the Marines came to town and asked to build a helipad for Marine One, the presidential helicopter, the Town Council agreed -- with conditions. 

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The helipad must be removed when the president leaves office, town officials said. Until then, the helipad can only be used official presidential business.

The helicopter currently sitting on the pad is co-owned by DT Connect II and DT Connect II Member Corp. The president’s sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr., are executives at those companies, according to state corporate records.

So, is the president using a Trump corporate helicopter at Mar-a-Lago for official White House business? If so, will the Trump corporations run by his sons seek reimbursement for allowing it to be used for White House business?

The Secret Service referred those questions to the White House. The White House did not respond to questions about the helicopter. 

Soon after, the town and The National Trust for Historic Preservation approved the building of a 50-foot helipad on the west lawn of Trump’s 17.5-acre property.

Neighbors and residents complained that the council had not given enough public notice before agreeing to modify the aircraft ban and build a helipad. 

“It is one thing to bring in Marine One with the president on it. It is another thing to bring in helicopters with the president not on it, or private helicopters,” Jesse Diner, attorney for Palm Beach resident Nancy deMoss, said at a February Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting. “So there needs to be a restriction on use as far as that goes to only Marine One when the president is on it.” 

Their concern: noise, downdraft, personal use of the helipad by friends, family and Mar-a-Lago members and setting a precedent for other residents to seek their own helipads.

“The reason we have this restriction (on helicopters) is to maintain some quality of life in Palm Beach,” Palm Beach resident Alexander Ives said. 

Ives wrote in a letter to the editor to Palm Beach Daily News that he feels that “this is an issue of the rule of law and no one -- not even the President of the United States and not even in Palm Beach -- should or can be above it.” 

Town staff members and residents were hoping Trump would use the helipad to land Marine One on his way to and from Palm Beach International Airport. The hope was that the helipad would help alleviate traffic. That hasn’t happened and the motorcade continues to stop traffic.

The helipad was completed in February and first used in April by the same Trump corporate helicopter. It is not known who used the helicopter then, but it was not the president.

The Secret Service told The Associated Press in April that the president can’t fly on a private chopper.

Other questions remain: If the Trump corporate helicopter is being used for official presidential business, will the Trump businesses be reimbursed for its use? 

And what is considered official presidential business? The town council offered no guidance.

Town Manager Tom Bradford said in April when the first private helicopter landed that he defines presidential business as “anything related to the POTUS.”

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