US Border Patrol deputy chief Scott Luck will be celebrating his retirement later this month with a private party at president Donald Trump’s lavish golf resort in Virginia, according to a flyer for the event obtained by Quartz.
While there is nothing illegal about the arrangement, it is certainly unseemly. A source with access to the Washington, DC building within which Border Patrol headquarters is located said the flyers are hanging on the walls of the office. One insider at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Border Patrol, questioned not only the optics of holding the gala dinner for Luck at a property owned by the president but also the $75 cost to attend. An announcement for the event was sent out to employees via official government email.
Luck, who appears in a large, framed photo with far-right commentator Tomi Lahren hanging prominently on the wall of Border Patrol headquarters, has described immigration at the southern border as a “deluge.”
The ticket price includes hors d’oeuvres, dinner, and a “gift contribution” for Luck, a 33-year veteran of the agency. Generally, federal ethics rules prohibit giving (or contributing to) gifts of any kind to superiors, but allow for employees to spend up to $10 on birthdays and certain holidays. There is an exception for what the US Office of Government Ethics calls “special infrequent occasions,” when giving or accepting an undefined “gift appropriate to the occasion” is permissible. These include marriage, illness, or the birth or adoption of a child, as well as “occasions that terminate the subordinate-official superior relationship, such as retirement, resignation, or transfer.”
The resort’s website tells prospective customers: “Our elegant Clubhouse, with 10 crystal chandeliers and floor to ceiling picture windows lends itself to host a variety of events including weddings, social functions, corporate events, holiday celebrations and golf outings. With space to accommodate up to 300 seated guests, let Trump National assist in planning every portion of your event, from customized menus to decor and entertainment.”
“US Border Patrol is not sponsoring or funding this private event taking place outside of duty hours,” a Border Patrol spokesman told Quartz.
All past US presidents have taken pains to avoid even the slightest appearance of personal conflicts of interest by putting their assets in a blind trust or divesting any investments or business ties that could be seen as questionable. Trump has only agreed to remove himself from the daily running of the Trump Organization, which is now overseen by his sons. During his first three years in office, Trump has managed to accumulate more than 2,300 known conflicts of interest, and is currently angling to steer next year’s G7 summit to a golf resort he owns in Florida.
Luck’s retirement dinner will take place about 10 weeks before attorney general William Barr is scheduled to throw a $30,000 “family holiday party” at the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Barr’s plan reportedly passed muster with Department of Justice ethics officials because it is not an official DOJ event. Still, it “creates the appearance that high-level political appointees or allies of the president may feel like they need to spend money at the president’s businesses as a show of loyalty, and that is something that makes me deeply uncomfortable and should make taxpayers deeply uncomfortable,” Liz Hempowicz of the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, told the Washington Post.
Last year, the Border Patrol Foundation, a nonprofit that honors Border Patrol agents who have been killed in the line of duty, moved its annual dinner from the Marriott to the Trump International Hotel in DC. Luck was a keynote speaker at the event.
This article has been updated with comment from Border Patrol.