On Friday night, Politico’s Natasha Bertrand broke the news that the US Air Force has suddenly discovered the tiny, money-losing Prestwick Airport outside Trump’s giant, money-losing golf course in Glasgow, Scotland, and decided to start using taxpayer money at both of them. Sure it would be cheaper to buy fuel at one of our own bases in Germany or Spain, as usual, or heck, even at the 100th Air Refueling Wing 350 miles southeast in England at the American base in Mildenhall. But for some reason, the Air Force decided to drastically ramp up visits to Prestwick since Donald Trump took office, rising from 95 stops with 40 overnight stays in 2015 to 259 stops with 220 overnights in the first eight months of 2019 alone.
And then there’s this part:
“The crew were so confused by what was happening when they were rerouted to Scotland to refuel at this tiny airport outside of Trump Turnberry because they had never done that before in the fifty-plus trips they had taken to do these routine supply trips,” Natasha Bertrand told Rachel Maddow on Friday. “They had never stopped in Scotland. It was always in Spain, or Germany, or if needed in Italy. But to stop in Scotland was strange enough, and for them to drive another 30 miles to Trump’s Turnberry resort — they didn’t have enough money. Their per diem allowance didn’t even allow them to buy food and drinks there. They felt totally out of place.”
In general, I try to be careful to check my facts, and I don’t like to accuse people of lying left and right—unless they’ve already proven themselves as such, that is. I was willing to give Air Force Brigadier General Ed Thomas a fair hearing as he explained what happened. But while I hate to accuse someone in a career position of lying, his explanation just does not make sense:
In this case, they made reservations through the Defense Travel System and used the closest available and least expensive accommodations to the airfield within the crews’ allowable hotel rates. While we are still reviewing the trip records, we have found nothing that falls outside the guidelines associated with selecting stopover airports on travel routes and hotel accommodations for crew rest.
I’d already read that Trump Turnberry is 30 miles away from Prestwick Airport, so my spider senses went up at Thomas’ explanation. Could Trump Turnberry—which was so expensive the servicemen couldn’t afford to buy food or drinks—have actually been the cheapest and closest accommodations available, as Thomas claimed? This would only make sense if Prestwick Airport were in the middle of nowhere. And I supposed that was possible, if not likely.
Fortunately, we have this thing called google maps. Prestwick Airport is nowhere near in the middle of nowhere. There are multiple hotels within walking distance, and dozens more within a few miles of the airport. In fact, to get to Trump Turnberry you have to drive directly past Ayr, a town of some 60,000 people, and on down the road another 20 miles.
Either Thomas is lying, or such a large number of troops that needed a place to spend the night that finding a hotel that could put them all up proved nigh impossible until someone considered the financially struggling Trump Turnberry, where rooms start at £289 per night. There are other luxury resort hotels closer to Prestwick, but then they probably actually fill their rooms.
And if this is the case—if lodging near Prestwick is this hard to find for the number of people they’ll need it for—we need a better explanation for why the Air Force is increasingly refueling at Prestwick when other options exist. Driving service members 30 miles to put them up in a luxury resort hotel is neither convenient nor consistent with either cost saving or efficiency.
But since we’re discussing the distinct feeling that public officials in career positions are being leaned on to lie to—or perhaps just mislead—the public, let’s turn to another example.
The actions by the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur L. Ross Jr., are the latest developments in a political imbroglio that began more than a week ago, when Dorian was bearing down on the Bahamas and Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that Alabama would be hit “harder than anticipated.” A few minutes later, the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Ala., posted on Twitter that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”
Mr. Ross, the Commerce Secretary, intervened two days later, early last Friday, according to the three people familiar with his actions. Mr. Ross phoned Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, from Greece where the secretary was traveling for meetings and instructed Dr. Jacobs to fix the agency’s perceived contradiction of the president.
Dr. Jacobs objected to the demand and was told that the political staff at NOAA would be fired if the situation was not fixed, according to the three individuals, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the episode.
Until very recently, I was one of those saying that people were talking way too much about this whole Alabama faux pas. So the president let his mouth run, and then didn’t want to admit he was wrong. In other words, it’s Monday! I felt this whole controversy was distracting from far more important things—like new rules limiting immigrants’ use of social safety net programs, etc.
When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration came out with a statement claiming that Trump had accurately stated the details as they were at the time—and that tropical storm force winds had been forecast for Alabama—I felt my concern about this story had been merited.
Then I read the above paragraphs and learned that the acting administrator of the NOAA had been told to fix the agency’s contradiction of the president or be fired. And so here we are again, with people in career positions lying because someone was leaning on them. Only here, we know exactly who was leaning on them—Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross Jr.
Lovely. Just, lovely. I just love not knowing who we can believe anymore. It’s so lovely to have the president treating career civil servants as his own personal toadies, expecting them to lie for him at will.
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