New York City boasts some of the highest real estate prices in the nation, and Basham noted that the Secret Service “does not have the liberty of going out in New Jersey” to find cheap rental space. “You have to be there,” he said, referring to Trump Tower.
Basham said it is difficult to pinpoint exact expenses at this stage in the budget process. But he estimated that the $26.8 million request would likely include costs for command centers, agents’ room and board, communications expenses and rental space.
Jeffrey Robinson, co-author of the book “Standing Next To History: An Agent’s Life in the Secret Service” with former Secret Service agent Joseph Petro, said the logistics of protecting Trump Tower are “a nightmare” because of its easily accessible location on Fifth Avenue.
“They have to secure Trump Tower because Melania is there,” Robinson said. “They protect the first family. They have to protect the grandchildren. This is going to be an expensive operation.”
Robinson said the budget request is not surprising, considering that the agency is mandated by Congress to protect the president. “They need the money that they need,” he said.
A separate travel-funding request seeks $33 million on top of the agency’s $74 million fiscal 2018 protection-travel budget. The document justifies the request by saying that Secret Service travel, in general, is “extremely variable, difficult to predict and difficult to plan for in advance as many protectees’ travel plans are unknown with limited time to prepare.”
The request does not specifically name Mar-a-Lago, and the travel budget changes year to year based on many factors. The total protective travel budget for fiscal 2015 was about $80 million. That figure climbed to $160 million in the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign, when agents were protecting multiple candidates.
But former agents said that, typically, costs go down in the first year of a new presidency.
The request does not specifically name Mar-a-Lago, and the travel budget climbed as high as $160 million during fiscal 2016, when agents were protecting multiple presidential candidates. But former agents said it was rare for travel budgetary needs to climb so high shortly after the campaign.
Before taking office, Trump repeatedly criticized the cost of President Barack Obama‘s travel, saying the fact that Obama’s trips were “costing taxpayers millions of dollars” was “unbelievable.” During the campaign, Trump pledged to save public money by working diligently in Washington and skipping out on expensive travel.
“There’s no time for vacation. We’re not going to be big on vacations,” Trump said at a campaign rally last year. “The White House is this incredible place. It represents so much, and you’re there for a limited period of time. If you’re at the White House and you have so much work to do, why do you fly? Why do you leave so much?”
The conservative group Judicial Watch, which closely tracked Obama’s family travel, estimated the Obamas’ vacation expenses totaled nearly $97 million over eight years.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday countered criticism of Trump’s frequent travel to Mar-a-Lago, saying, “The president is very clear that he works seven days a week. This is where he goes to see his family. He brings people down there. This is part of being president.”
Experts say that it is common for incoming presidential administrations to have unique logistical challenges, including George W. Bush, who preferred to spend time at his remote ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Mar-a-Lago has quickly become a capital of Trump’s presidency and will play host to Chinese President Xi Jinping next month. On Friday night, the president surprised attendees when he popped into a club charity event to congratulate Patrick Park, a Palm Beach philanthropist who has said he hopes to be named U.S. ambassador to Austria.
The Secret Service’s protection costs are only a fraction of the total public spending devoted to safeguarding Trump properties. New York police spent roughly $24 million toward security costs at Trump Tower between the election and inauguration, according to police figures provided to The Washington Post.
The agency is seeking federal reimbursement for the security costs. When the president is in town, New York police expect to spend about $300,000 a day safeguarding Trump Tower. On days when only the first lady and the president’s son are in town, police expect security costs will drop to between $127,000 and $145,000 a day. A police spokesman said the estimates could change based on officer deployments, intelligence and other factors.
At Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach County officials say their sheriff’s office has spent more than $1.5 million toward overtime for deputies guarding the exclusive estate Trump has taken to calling “the southern White House” and “winter White House.”
County officials have proposed levying a special fee on Mar-a-Lago, saying they would have to otherwise raise taxes on local residents to help cover the high security costs. The Coast Guard has also paid to provide around-the-clock patrols of the island resort’s two coastlines, including through the use of a gun-mounted response boat that, according to agency budget documents, costs $1,500 an hour.
The Secret Service has struggled through years of budget shortages and low morale. Former Secret Service agents said tightening budgets have hit agents hard and that, unlike other agencies, the Secret Service can’t travel less or staff fewer people to keep costs down because full protection for the first family is guaranteed.
“Everything will get done,” said Wackrow, the former agent who served in Obama’s protective detail. “But at what pain point does it get done?”
The Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig, Devlin Barrett, Julie Tate and Alice Crites contributed to this report.
Secret Service sought $60 million extra for Trump travel and protection, documents show – Chicago Tribune