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Democratic Senators Ask For Threat Assessment On Trump's Properties

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Last week, three Democratic senators asked the secretaries of defense, state and homeland security to look into this question posed by the presidency of Donald Trump. Given the number of far-flung properties bearing the Trump name, are federal funds being used at all for their security? Joining us is one of the authors of that letter, Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico. Welcome to the program.

TOM UDALL: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: And do you believe that hotels and golf courses with the name Trump on them are now regarded as soft targets for global terrorism?

UDALL: Well, I think that's probably true. And the issue really for us all revolves from the fact that the president has this worldwide empire of companies and economic assets that need to be protected. So there are some real serious issues here when it comes to taxpayer dollars, how they're being spent, the public's right to know on the taxpayer dollars.

SIEGEL: What have you heard back from the Cabinet secretaries whom you sent the letter to?

UDALL: We have heard very little.

SIEGEL: When I think of American targets for terrorists abroad over the years, I think mostly of military and diplomatic facilities. So far as you know, do any big American brands like Disney or Marriott or Hilton get any special protection or have any special arrangement with U.S. agencies?

UDALL: Well, I don't think they do. I think that's really our point - that when you are talking about private facilities, companies that are operating internationally, the government really doesn't protect them in any way and doesn't put taxpayer resources behind that. And so that's really the issue here.

SIEGEL: When Reuters reported on this story, they quoted a State Department official speaking on background saying that privately owned U.S. companies such as the Trump organization are responsible for providing their own security for assets overseas. I'm quoting from Reuters. Do you have any reason to believe that the executive branch is doing otherwise?

UDALL: Well, I think we've entered into, Robert, a whole new era of rather than a president having his place of work - you know, we give a president a White House. We give him a good expense account. We give him good security. He has a place to work, and we've never gotten into this where we have multiple winter-summer White Houses where sons are traveling across the world. And they get Secret Service protection.

SIEGEL: But we do provide security to a President Bush when he goes either, one, to Kennebunkport or, the other, down to Texas to his ranch. I mean President Obama seemed to favor Camp David more than many other presidents, but we have provided security for people.

UDALL: Of course, yeah, there have been usually one residence that's taken care of. They usually have not been public facilities where business is conducted in a public way. So there are some really serious, tough issues that we've never faced and require the president not enrich himself as a result of being president.

SIEGEL: Senator Udall, what do you say to the possible criticism that you and your colleagues Senator Whitehouse and Senator Blumenthal are not so much concerned about the American taxpayers as about pushing Donald Trump to divest himself of his properties as a matter of principle?

UDALL: Well, I would first say that I'm on the Appropriations Committee. I feel that we're a guardian of the taxpayers' purse, and that's the prime issue for me. I would agree with you that many of these things or most of these things would go away if he'd divest himself and if he did what all other presidents have done in that respect.

SIEGEL: Trump properties, though, pose a highly unusual, perhaps unique problem in that Donald Trump's name is often leased to properties in which he has little or no other financial interest. His name is the value that he provides very often to these things. Even if he were to sell a property, if he were to divest it, the name might convey with the building and still be a target for terror attacks or whatever even if he didn't take the major entourage with him. So in the course of divestiture, is he required to strip the name Trump from buildings all over the world?

UDALL: I don't know that I know the answer to that. I know that what would happen in a divestiture is he would go before the Office of Ethics, which is completely independent, which is - has approved of many of his billionaire Cabinet secretaries and proved their divestments. And they'd work through all of those issues.

SIEGEL: Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, thanks for talking with us.

UDALL: Robert, always a pleasure. Let us know when you want us to come back. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.