UPDATE: 10:26 a.m.: After this story was published on Dec. 30, the White House confirmed that the Trump corporate helicopter at Mar-a-Lago “is not being used for an official government function and that no private entity will be reimbursed for its use.”
ORIGINAL STORY: 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 the town agreed to allow a helipad to be built and helicopters to land at Mar-a-Lago with certain conditions: The helipad must be removed when the president leaves office. Until then, the helipad can only be used for official presidential business.
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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.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said on Saturday that neither the White House nor the Marines requested the helipad or were involved in building it or paying for it.
Local officials said they don’t know who is using the helipad.
“I wish I could answer that,” said Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio about who was using the helicopter and why. “If that’s the case and it’s being used for official business, so be it.”
Even Battalion Chief Sean Baker, spokesman for Palm Beach Fire-Rescue, said he has “no clue” who is using the helicopter, adding that Fire Rescue is “called to Mar-a-Lago when the Secret Service needs us.”
What is known is that the president’s four children and nine grandchildren all came to Palm Beach to celebrate the holidays. Trump has spent seven of those days in town, including Saturday, which he spent golfing.
Besides being family, Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, are also members of the White House staff.
The conversation begins
The helipad debate dates to the 2016 New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago when the same Trump helicopter was spotted on the lakeside lawn of the estate.
At its Jan. 10 meeting, the Town Council quickly approved a resolution to change to the aircraft ban after Town Attorney John Randolph suggested adding the approval be “for business relating solely to the office of the President."
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.
President Trump's private helicopter just landed at Mar-a-Lago. First time since the helipad was built last month. pic.twitter.com/E2QmKSL6Ry— Aleese Kopf (@aleesekopf) April 8, 2017
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.”