Donald Trump’s Boeing 757 is an impressive airplane despite being smaller than Air Force One. The ex-president parked it for four years while he accessed the plane’s big brother, but just after the January 6, 2021, insurrection, Trump had it returned to service. It now whisks him to and from campaign rallies, between Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster, and to criminal arraignments.
While I was watching Trump’s arrival last week in Washington, I wondered, who is paying for the plane? It costs around $18,000 to fly a Boeing 757 for an hour. The annual cost to own a 757 is estimated at $6.9 million. That is a lot of money, but Trump is a self-identified billionaire.
Is he charging part or all his transportation costs to his presidential campaign? A review of the most recent filing of the disclosure statement for his Save America PAC did not show charges for “Trump One,” but Trump has several PACs. (His Save America PAC did show millions of dollars in fees paid to several law firms and individual lawyers.)
Call me a cynic, but I doubt Trump is paying for the cost of his trips to various cities for indictments. Let’s assume he is not. What about the cost for the Secret Service agents who accompany him? Not only are the salaries of the agents (appropriately for a former president) paid by taxpayers, but Trump also is likely billing the government for their transportation to Washington. That rubs me the wrong way.
And while Trump isn’t much concerned about climate change. I am. His plane burns 5800 pounds of jet fuel per hour. Trump is a big man, but his carbon footprint is even bigger.
Worse than Trump’s contribution to destruction of the planet is the stupidity of Trump supporters in donating to Political Action Committees used (abused) to pay what otherwise would be personal expenses. If Trump were not a billionaire who once viciously attacked Forbes magazine for underestimating his wealth, it might be understandable. But a Boeing 757 and a brigade of lawyers?
Many of Trump’s supporters cannot afford to fly coach class on commercial airlines, but their leader chooses to fly in a make-believe Air Force One. And they go to rallies to hear Trump call Jack Smith deranged.
It is surprising that Trump’s followers put up with his passing on costs for his criminal defense. It is one thing to believe Trump is being charged with crimes unfairly. It is another to believe, as Trump asks his supporters, to believe that he has been indicted for them. That is why he said, “It is an honor to be indicted.”
In coming months, as prosecutions of Trump progress to the trial stage, Republicans will claim to calculate federal and state cost of the investigations and trials against him. They will express outrage over taxpayer’s money being wasted. But they will be silent on the question of whether the former president should be held accountable if he broke the law.
The Trump Insurrection will be recorded in history as a national tragedy, worse than Watergate. Part of the story is Trump using campaign funds to pay for his criminal defense and, I suspect, “Trump One.”
Although I shake my head in disgust over Trump’s antics, maybe Trump is right to let contributors pay for his legal defense and associated costs. As his legal woes worsen, Trump’s popularity among Republicans increases. He told a gathering in Alabama, “Any time they file an indictment, we go up in the polls. We need one more indictment to close out this election. One more indictment, and this election is closed out. Nobody has even a chance.”
If Trump is right that getting indicted on more than 40 felony counts is helping him win the Republican presidential nomination, maybe charging his lawyers and the cost of “Trump One” to his campaign is legitimate.
One last question: Why would anyone support a presidential nominee who might face jail time for felonies that threaten the cornerstones of our democracy?
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.