Trump buildings are likely terror targets, but it’s unclear who will pay for extra security
President-elect Donald Trump’s vast property interests are estimated by Bloomberg to be worth $3 billion, and as he prepares to take office, there are growing concerns in the security and counterterrorism communities over who will foot the bill to protect them.
Trump has a large roster of high-profile properties in the United States — including Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., which opened near the White House amid controversy last October — that already pose unique challenges to law enforcement and a potential security-cost headache.
“Those properties, the prominence of those properties, the marketing and branding around them, puts those facilities at a much higher risk,” said Bill Flynn, the former principal deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Infrastructure Protection.
The Secret Service has the authority to protect “persons” — in this case, the president-elect and his family — but it has no obligation to protect a Trump property simply because it bears his name. Spokesman Marty Mulholland told VICE News the agency is not taking any extra measures to protect Trump properties unless the president-elect resides or visits there.
In New York City, Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue has become the temporary home base of the incoming Trump administration, and the city has already erected barricades and vastly increased NYPD presence around the building. Mayor Bill de Blasio sent a $35 million bill to the Obama administration for the expenses he says the city will have incurred as a result of securing Trump between Nov. 8 and Jan. 20. Congressional Republicans offered to reimburse the city for $7 million of that bill in December. It is unclear whether additional costs incurred by cities other than New York — like Chicago or Toronto, both of which are home to Trump hotels — will be passed on to U.S. taxpayers.
VICE News reached out to the Trump Organization, which said via its public relations firm Glodow Nead Communications that the safety of residents and guests at Trump Hotels is of the “highest priority.”
“Our property leaders, associates, and security teams work diligently to help ensure that our guests are safe, comfortable and secure, while providing a superior luxury experience,” Amanda Miller of the Trump Organization said in an email. “We have extensive protocols in place and will continue to work very closely with local law enforcement.” The organization would not further comment on what those protocols are.
The situation is more murky for properties and holdings owned by Trump or bearing his name overseas, which fall outside the purview of the U.S. government. Hotels and resorts, so-called “soft targets,” are always attractive to terrorists, according to Colin Clarke, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation and the author of “Terrorism, Inc.: The Financing of Terrorism, Insurgency, and Irregular Warfare.”
Trump’s previous comments about Muslims have, by some accounts, already been a recruiting tool for the Islamic State group, meaning targeting a Trump property may have added allure. “There was so much chatter on [SMS network] Telegram with jihadis we monitor after he said these things — they were thrilled,” Clarke said. “All the fence-sitters are now riled up. It fed into the narrative they’d created about a ‘war on Islam.’”
Trump’s remarks about banning Muslims from entering the U.S. prompted owners of Trump-branded buildings in Turkey to publicly discuss removing the Trump name, but to date the name remains. Organizations like ISIS and al-Qaeda, which seek to strike multiple targets at once in order to appear more global in reach, may find it tempting to attack a Trump resort.
“What bigger publicity than hitting the property of the president of the U.S.?” Clarke said. “The propaganda value is enormous.”
Iain Overton, the executive director of Action on Armed Violence, warns that the Trump brand will be a considerable target for terrorists aiming to simultaneously damage the United States and Trump himself.
“Given the steady global face of terror attacks — last year 21 countries saw suicide bombings — and the anti-American sentiment that goes with much of that, the Trump logo might well be seen as the president-elect’s Achilles heel,” Overton said. “The most obvious potential targets are the two Trump Towers in Istanbul. These come complete with a major shopping mall and a multiplex cinema…. There are also two resorts in Bali, Indonesia [in development], as well as a luxury golf club in Dubai.”
The Trump Towers in Istanbul, however, are not owned by the president-elect himself. As with many of the his overseas holdings, a property company simply licenses Trump’s name, a deal that has netted Trump between $1 million and $5 million since 2015, according to financial disclosures he made last May. It remains to be seen whether Dogan Holding, the property company, will bill Trump for any additional security measures; Dogan did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.
Another question overshadowing Trump’s overseas holdings is whether any additional money spent by foreign governments to protect them would trigger the Emoluments Clause in the U.S. Constitution, which restricts members of the government from receiving gifts from foreign states.
“Outside the U.S. is where things really get tricky,” said Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush. “If the government of Turkey has to provide additional security for the building, is that in effect a subsidy for the Trump Organization? The ideal solution is for him to take his name off these buildings.”
Robert Liscouski, a former assistant secretary for infrastructure protection for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, cautions that black-and-white answers for who pays for the additional security aren’t likely to be found before Trump takes office — though precedent would seem to indicate that foreign entities won’t be able to bill the U.S. government.
“Unless [the properties] are part of what we call the ‘critical infrastructure’ category, they couldn’t justify passing the expense on to the U.S.,” he said. “Even if they had to protect it, it isn’t an embassy, it’s not where we have U.S. interests. We don’t protect the Coca-Cola Company because it is an iconic American brand.”