I asked her to look around again, to try to spot the agents, because I figured if it was him, they had to be there somewhere. As far as I knew, the president’s immediate family all had Secret Service protection, at all times.
“Maybe they’re parked outside?” I said.
“They wouldn’t really be doing their job, then, would they?” she said.
Doing their job has become a challenge for the Secret Service during the Trump administration. The president has a large family, one accustomed, like the president himself, to a lifestyle rich in air miles. While the weekly golfing trips of the commander in chief garner the bulk of the headlines, his grown children aren’t homebodies, either, and keeping them and their father safe has placed an unprecedented strain on the Secret Service. In May, Congress allocated an additional $34 million in funding for the agency, but it was soon exhausted; in late August, the Secret Service announced that unless more funds were issued, it would run out of money by the end of September. The Trump family, then, appears to have jet-setted themselves into a bind: The way they live is bankrupting the agency tasked with keeping them alive.
Still, they wouldn’t abandon their protection altogether, would they?
Eventually, my friend told me that the man had stopped pacing around the carousel and had wandered over to the Air Canada desk, where he was filing a report about his missing luggage. She heard him tell the people behind the counter that he planned to take a chartered floatplane to a remote hunting camp the next morning.
I made it onto the next flight from Vancouver and a couple hours later watched out the window as we descended toward a small island of lights in a vast sea of darkness. The Yukon is huge and tiny. It’s got a landmass the size of France and a population — 33,897 — that’s barely one-hundredth the size of Paris’s. Most of that population is in Whitehorse, leaving the bulk of the territory uninhabited, a subarctic landscape of tundra and mountains stretching north toward the pole.
The area often evokes romantic images of Jack London and the Klondike Gold Rush. Donald Trump Jr.’s German great-grandfather, Friedrich Trump, actually lived here for a while during the Rush. He opened a saloon on Main Street in Whitehorse — one that may have doubled as a brothel — and ran it for a few years, catering to the boom-and-bust desires of gold-panners. Then he sold his share and eventually made his way to the United States, where he decided to start investing in real estate. Large- and small-scale miners are still drawn to the Yukon, but these days when Americans come here they’re often in pursuit of a different natural resource. The territory hosts a cornucopia of wild game — there are at least twice as many moose as humans here, for example — making it a hunter’s paradise.
Donald Trump Jr. is an avid hunter. The internet is full of grisly pictures of him posing with the corpses of elephants, leopards, water buffaloes, crocodiles. That he might come here on a hunting trip wasn’t surprising. But it surprised me that he had traveled on a commercial flight — economy class, no less. I wondered whether my friend at the airport had been mistaken. The president’s son is the sort of generically handsome guy that might have more than a few look-alikes.
Over the next couple of days, I occasionally checked news stories online but didn’t find even the whiff of a Yukon trip. Trump’s social media accounts had gone suspiciously quiet, though. The morning after his supposed arrival in Whitehorse, he tweeted the following: “Protip: If have to tell others you’re an alpha … you’re not,” but after that his usually active feed became just a sporadic drizzle of retweets.
Then on Sept. 18, The New York Times ran an article with the following headline: “Donald Trump Jr. Gives Up Secret Service Protection, Seeking Privacy.” The article explained that a few days earlier, Trump voluntarily abandoned his security detail. The reporters had reached out to Trump for comment, but hadn’t been able to locate him. Apparently they didn’t know where he was. That vacuum of knowledge was soon filled with speculation in other outlets about how Trump’s surprise move might mesh with the all-consuming scandals hanging over his father’s administration. GQ ruminated about how “suspicious” it was for “a major adviser to and son of the president who is the subject of a serious investigation into possible international espionage to get rid of the government agents who are around him all the time.” A British paper echoed that theme, running a piece with a headline noting that Trump was “conspicuously absent” during the president’s speech at the United Nations.
But I was now confident that I knew where he was — give or take a couple hundred thousand square miles — and that it was nowhere near Moscow. Instead, the son of the president was traveling on the down low in a remote wilderness, without Secret Service. And that seemed significant, regardless of your politics, or your investment in the Russia scandal. After all, one reason you want to protect the president’s family members is to prevent them from being abducted, a nightmare scenario that would put the president, and the whole country, in an awful position. I mean, a whole story arc on “The West Wing” hinged on basically that exact premise. (Incidentally, after Zoey was abducted, President Bartlet temporarily abdicated office by invoking the same amendment — the 25th — that some people hope might eventually push Trump out the door.) Whatever your politics, whatever you think of Trump, the last thing you would want is for his son to fall into the wrong hands. Meaning that if Trump Jr. had decided to give up his Secret Service protection, at the very least you would hope he wouldn’t be easy to find.
I decided to see if I could track him down.
A lot of people in the Yukon work multiple jobs. A good friend of mine, for example, is a writer/rock musician/actress/dog-musher. She also occasionally hires on as a guide or a cook with the big-game outfitters that cater to wealthy out-of-towners like, say, Donald Trump Jr. There are 19 big-game outfitters in the Yukon — each with their own huge hunting concession — and their clients pay about the price of a Honda Accord to spend a week in the bush killing wolves, moose, bears, elk and whatever other Yukon fauna they most covet. The outfitters charge a base fee for the trip — often about $20,000 for 10 days at a bush camp — then tack on additional fees based on the kill. Shooting a wolf is the cheapest — about $100 a head — while more prestigious kills can go for a hundred times that amount. Clients often pay a bonus of $10,000 or more for the privilege of killing a sheep.
I told my friend about Trump Jr.’s trip, and asked her to help me narrow down his location. She got in touch with some acquaintances in the outfitting business. They told her some things. Pretty soon I was pretty sure I knew roughly where he was. Besides his location, I even had a good idea of what he was hunting: According to one of my friend’s sources, he had supposedly been spending time on a river, which meant he was probably trying to bag a moose.
Then I froze.
In other circumstances, looking for another person, I might have aggressively called all the likeliest outfitters and tried to talk my way into their camps. This was different. It occurred to me that my questions might trigger an unpredictable series of events. If Trump realized that his under-the-radar trip was no longer under the radar, he or someone else might decide that he had to be yanked out of the bush, for safety’s sake. He’d spook, in other words. Which would inevitably lead to bubble-reinforcing headlines that might contain at least a grain of truth: “Reporter Endangers Trump Son (and Ruins His Vacation).”
The Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport is named after a former member of Parliament who, legend has it, won his seat in part by promising the local population that if they voted for him he’d lift the territory’s then-stringent restrictions on alcohol. He won in a landslide, and the airport is one part of his legacy, as is, perhaps, Canada’s highest per-capita drinking rates. There are only a handful of commercial flights to and from Whitehorse every day, and in between flights the airport is dead. I arrived around 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 22, and hunkered down in the empty departures hall, waiting for Trump. I had reason to believe that he finished his hunt and was going to take the 9:10 p.m. flight to Vancouver, the beginning of his three-leg trip back to New York. I was on the phone with a friend, complaining that I felt like paparazzo, when I spotted him.
Baseball cap, red checkered shirt, week’s worth of stubble, khaki pants, camouflage backpack, sturdy shoes and a long black carrying case presumably containing a hunting bow. He walked past me, all alone, and stopped in front of a door to the side of the main security entrance, a door you use when you’re checking either unusually bulky items or weapons. He started ringing the buzzer beside the door. Nobody answered. I got up and walked over.
“Hey,” I said. “I’m Luke.”
I held out my hand, and he shook it.
“I’m Don,” he said.
I told him that I heard he was in the area, that I was with The New York Times Magazine and that I’d love to talk to him about his trip.
“The Times,” he said. “I never know where you guys are coming from.”
I asked if he bagged anything.
“I can’t really tell you that,” he said. ‘‘Let’s just say it was a good hunt.’’
Was it a moose?
“I can’t … look, I can’t say.”
(It was a moose. Big one, too.)
He politely nonanswered a few more questions. We went off the record and chatted a while longer, focusing on his decision to drop his security detail. He had at least an hour before boarding and said he was hungry and was going to go eat with some of his hunting buddies, who had by now joined us in the security line. I told him that I’d hang around till he got back and that I hoped he’d reconsider talking with me on the record. He left, and I waited. By the time he returned, the airport had filled with people. There was a family going to Disneyland, each of their five children wearing a Mickey Mouse hat. There was a man hauling a cooler full of moose meat. And there were guns. Lots and lots of guns, long-muzzled and high-velocity, carted through the terminal by a motley crew of hunters. It was that time of year.
I walked back up to the eldest son of the most powerful man in the world. At that moment, it seemed to me that he had put himself in an unwisely vulnerable position. I asked again if we could talk. He said no. I asked if I could take a picture at least.
Then I bagged a selfie and went home.
Continue reading the main storySource: New York Times – Politics