The letters were full of the niceties one would expect in a letter from federal lawmakers to agencies of the U.S. government, but, bottom line, the message was this: Palm Beach County has shelled out millions protecting then president-elect and now President Donald Trump, and it wants its money back.
Six members of Congress, including four from Palm Beach County, signed a pair of letters Monday to the heads of the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, urging them to reimburse the county for security and roadway management costs associated with Trump’s trips to his Mar-a-Lago mansion on Palm Beach since he was elected.
The letters do not specify how much the county wants, although they request “full and fair consideration” for Palm Beach County’s requests for costs, including $2.2 million in sheriff’s office and fire-rescue overtime for seven visits during Trump’s presidency so far and $1.5 million in overtime by the two agencies during Trump’s holiday visits as president-elect. The letters also ask for consideration for expenses incurred by the Broward Sheriff’s Office and West Palm Beach and Palm Beach police departments, which loaned officers during these Trump visits as well.
While the expenses mentioned in the two letters add up to $3.7 million, sheriff’s spokeswoman Teri Barbera said Tuesday that PBSO’s Trump-related overtime costs now stand at $4.5 million.
» West Palm joins county in seeking money for Trump security costsThe letters are part of an ongoing — and so far unsuccessful — effort the county has mounted that has included previous letters, public comments, a one-on-one meeting between Trump and Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and another meeting between the president and Gov. Rick Scott. Bradshaw and Scott said they have reminded Trump of the county’s desire to be reimbursed.
Congress appropriated $40 million to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse local governments for assisting the Secret Service with security as President Trump travels to their jurisdictions. Another $20 million was directed to a Justice Department grant program to reimburse local governments that provided assistance during Trump’s visits as president-elect.
“From inauguration to president, President Trump visited his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach 7 separate times or 25 days,” says the letter sent to Bob Fenton, the acting administrator of FEMA. “Palm Beach County Sheriff and Fire Rescue Department have spent over $2.2 million just in overtime costs, not including additional costs of barricades, fending, and other necessary expenses. The Town of Palm Beach, where Mar-a-Lago is located, the adjacent city of West Palm Beach, and the Broward County Sheriff’s Department, who loaned officers in times of need, all incurred overtime costs while assisting the Secret Service in protection of the President…While protection of the President is paramount, the amount of overtime cost is detrimental to the local budgets and puts a strain on our local police forces.”
The letter sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions notes that PBSO and Fire Rescue spent more than $1.5 million in overtime costs protecting Trump when he spent the Thanksgiving and winter holidays at Mar-a-Lago.
The letters are signed by five Democrats — U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel, of West Palm Beach; Ted Deutch, of Boca Raton, Alcee Hastings, of Delray Beach, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Weston, and Frederica Wilson, of Miami — and one Republican, Rep. Brian Mast, of Palm City. Frankel, Deutch, Hastings and Mast represent parts of Palm Beach County. Wasserman Schultz’s and Wilson’s districts include parts of Broward County.
Mar-a-Lago, described by the president as the “winter White House,” also has emerged as a something of a political target.
Trump opponents say Trump and his family have used the presidency to enhance their properties to further enrich themselves, and what they’ve done with the exclusive private club in Palm Beach fits that pattern.
After Trump’s election win in November, Mar-a-Lago increased its membership fee to $200,000 — double the pre-election price. Besides the fee, members also must pay $14,000 annually.
And applications to the club surged after Trump’s November win, The New York Times reported in January. At that time Mar-a-Lago had 482 members, but was capped at 500 members, The Times reported.
Meanwhile, the allure of possibly seeing the president or world leaders at Mar-a-Lago caused a jump in ticket sales for charities hosting their big fundraisers this past season, insiders say. Some lucky members looked on in amazement earlier this year when Trump got on the phone at Mar-a-Lago to respond to a nuclear missile test by North Korea, but their cell phone pictures sparked anger among some that he was cavalierly handling the nation’s foreign policy.
On Monday, non-profit government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, announced that the Department of Homeland Security will release Mar-a-Lago visitor logs to the group by Sept. 8. CREW, which sued to get access to the records, said it will make public the list of visitors to Mar-a-Lago.