Donald Trump took to Twitter Friday morning to express his concern about the cost of the investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials in the 2016 election.
A.P. has just reported that the Russian Hoax Investigation has now cost our government over $17 million, and going up fast. No Collusion, except by the Democrats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 1, 2018
The president is referring to the report released by the Justice Department on Tuesday detailing the costs of the Russia probe. Robert Mueller’s team submitted figures to the Justice Department covering expenditures from October 1, 2017 through March 31, 2018, the latest 6 month accounting period. Those expenditures total nearly $10 million. Expenditures for the previous 6 month period, May 17, 2017 to September 30, 2017, were nearly $7 million.
ABC reports that the direct expenditures by Mueller’s team cover compensation for prosecutors, rent, travel and transportation with the Justice Department chipping in additional funds.
Mueller’s team spent $4,506,624 in direct expenditures, and the Justice Department reported spending an additional $5,467,000 in support of the investigation during the latest six month period – a combined total of $9,982,624.
The Hill breaks the expenditures from October through March, for a team of 17 prosecutors, down further.
$2.7 million on compensation and benefits, $532,340 on transportation and travel, and $886,403 on rent and utilities.
The tally for the Russia investigation from May 17, 2017 to March 31, 2018 is $16,742,319, approximately $1.7 per month.
As the Washington Post points out, taken in context, that price tag is unimpressive. For the sake of context, the Whitewater investigation, which finally wound down in 2004, long after Bill Clinton had left office, saw Ken Starr rack up expenditures of more than $70 million.
In the grand scheme of government spending, $16.7 million is … not a lot. The federal government is expected to spend about $4.1 trillion in fiscal 2018. To put it into more tangible terms, spending $16.7 million of $4.1 trillion is like making $50,000 a year and spending 20 cents.
In the space of a little more than a year, Mueller’s investigation has resulted in the indictments of 4 individuals close to Trump’s campaign. Mike Flynn, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos have all plead guilty. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, faces trials in Virginia and DC starting in July and September, respectively. Rick Pinedo, a man from California, has been charged and is likely to be sentenced soon while Alexander van der Zwaan, a Dutch attorney, plead guilty and is currently serving his jail sentence in Pennsylvania. Additionally, 13 Russian individuals and 3 Russian companies have also been indicted for illegal activities during the presidential election.
President Trump is concerned about the $1.7 million per month spent on an investigation that has exposed criminal activities by individuals close to his campaign and administration. But, the Washington Post details how a single trip to Mar-a-Lago likely costs the equivalent of a month of expenditures for Mueller’s team. A report by Politico stating that a trip to Mar-a-Lago cost $3 million was disputed by Judicial Watch.
The conservative group Judicial Watch, which calculated similar figures for Obama’s presidency, told the AP that it figured each trip to Mar-a-Lago cost about $1 million, including only Air Force One travel and Secret Service protection.
President Trump has been to Mar-a-Lago 17 times (the WaPo lists the dates of all 17 trips), which would total $17 million in flight and protection alone, going by Judicial Watch’s figures.
That $17 million does not take into account other expenses incurred, such as additional protection costs and airlifting the presidential limousine. For instance, the Coast Guard spent $6.6 million, guarding adjacent beach front property on the first five trips the President made to Mar-a-Lago. Assuming the subsequent trips incurred similar expenditures, the total cost of the 17 trips doubles and the price tag for each trip approaches the Politico estimate of $3 million. Trips to Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey club, which he has visited 9 times, or his club in Sterling, Virginia, which he has visited 31 times, are not factored into presidential expenditures here.
Criticism of a president’s leisure time is nothing new. In fact, President Trump has particularly opened himself up to criticism after routinely lambasting Obama’s many golf outings. On October 13, 2014, Trump tweeted, “Can you believe that,with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf. Worse than Carter”
Politifact points out that Donald Trump has significantly more tee time under his belt than Obama did in the same time period. Trump has played golf 56 times compared to Obama’s 37 times. Politifact notes that the number of golf trips for Trump is likely higher, because the administration is not forthcoming about his golf outings.
The administration is also not forthcoming about the costs incurred by Trump’s many trips to his properties, which leaves the media to estimate. The White House has been stonewalling the Government Accountability Office since March 2017 and a hearing has been requested, according to the Washington Post.
In a letter to the majority, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee requested a hearing to look into the White House’s failure to provide information, based on a May 9 letter from the GAO to White House counsel Donald McGahn.
“I understand that attorneys from your office and the National Security Council (NSC) will not respond to inquiries or otherwise engage with GAO staff during the course of our reviews,” that letter, from GAO general counsel Thomas Armstrong, read. “This approach represents a clear departure from past practice.”
Why It Matters
If $17 million is the tiniest drop in the bucket of government spending, the equivalent of making $50,000 and spending 20 cents as The Washington Post says, then the biggest complaint about Trump’s golfing is that his complaints about Obama’s outing were hypocritical. On the other hand, as a nation of laws and not men, 5 guilty pleas, criminals taken to trial, and 1 jail term being served, seems like an excellent return for the expenditure of 20 cents.