Trump campaign event use of Marine Corps helicopter raises ethics questions
President Trump’s reelection campaign appeared to use a Marine Corps helicopter to hover over a large crowd of cheering supporters, raising questions about the ethics of using the military aircraft for such purposes.
Trump early on Wednesday tweeted a video of the helicopter, which was emblazoned with the Marine Corps’ Helicopter Squadron One green and white paint design.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 28, 2020
The unit, based out of Quantico, Va., transports the president and various other senior officials regularly.
The video showed the helicopter hovering low over the campaign event attendees, who stood closely together and cheered and waved as the Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Fortunate Son” played. It was not clear from the video if the helicopter was landing or hovered for a period of time before moving on.
The playing of “Fortunate Son” has triggered a separate controversy with the songwriter John Fogerty.
A separate split screen playing below that video showed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at a smaller campaign event where attendees stood alone in separate, marked circles on the ground to enable social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Joseph Butterfield later said that in the video, which is from Trump’s Oct. 23 rally at The Villages, Fla., the helicopter was transporting Trump from the nearby Ocala International Airport and “did not fly over (or hover over) the assembled crowd.”
“The entire flight was conducted in accordance with U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps regulations, operating procedures, and safety protocols,” Butterfield said. “Marine One landed a safe distance from the crowd, which the camera angle in the video . . . does not appear to fully capture.”
He added that no review or investigation is necessary.
The Trump campaign did not return a request for comment.
The video raises questions about the ethics of the Pentagon’s role in the event.
Department of Defense (DOD) policy prohibits military members from participating in campaign activities such as volunteering for a candidate, attending a rally or appearing in materials while in uniform, though they are allowed to do so off duty.
The Trump campaign earlier this month drew similar scrutiny when it used the Pentagon’s senior civilian and uniformed officials in a new online advertisement, in violation of the standing Pentagon policy.
The controversial ad — which used a photo from the situation room during the killing of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last year — showed Trump with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley at his side as well as Vice President Pence.
Esper, Milley and other senior military leaders numerous times this year have sought to keep the Pentagon out of the Nov. 3 election, though they have not frequently been successful.
Esper at the start of the year reiterated that service members must “uphold DoD’s longstanding tradition of remaining apolitical as we carry out our official responsibilities,” according to a February memo.
This story was updated at 8:35 a.m.