July 08, 2019

Van Hollen, Udall, Leahy Request GAO Investigation into Full Costs, Legal Compliance for Trump Fourth of July Event

For weeks, the Interior Department has failed to disclose information on costs and planning to Members of the Appropriations Committee to Members of the Appropriations Committee

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) along with Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation into the costs and impacts associated with President Trump’s expanded Fourth of July events and into whether the expenses complied with longstanding appropriations law and other statutory restrictions on political activity.

Van Hollen, Udall, and Leahy wrote to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt demanding information about the additional costs associated with the president’s Fourth of July plans and decision to upend the longstanding, non-partisan celebration on the National Mall. Despite the Senators letter having a response deadline of June 28, 2019, Bernhardt has thus far failed to respond.

“Congress did not specifically provide funds to cover the costs of the President’s expanded Fourth of July events, and we are very concerned by the impacts and the precedent of diverting limited Federal resources—including the use of military personnel, equipment and aircraft as well as other appropriations or visitor fees paid to improve national parks—to organize and execute unbudgeted events,” the Senators wrote in today’s letter to the GAO. “Further, we are troubled by reports that preferential access to the National Mall was organized by political entities such as the Republican National Committee, which furthers the appearance that taxpayer funds were used to accomplish political objectives.”

“As part of our Committee’s oversight of Federal spending, we ask that you review the fiscal year 2019 Fourth of July events held on the National Mall and provide us with comprehensive cost estimates for the planning and execution of these events, including personnel, security, event logistics, production, travel, transportation, communications, and related costs, as well as any costs to address resource damage created by the events.  We also seek historical data to use as a comparison,” the Senators continued. “Finally, we ask GAO to provide legal analysis regarding whether the expenditures for the aforementioned events comply with Federal laws.”

To pay for portions of the extra costs, the Trump administration reportedly diverted $2.5 million in National Park Service (NPS) entrance fees paid by visitors to National Parks, fees that are intended to go toward park maintenance, repairs, and improvements – at a time when NPS is facing significant budgetary pressures to address its $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog and accommodate record-setting visitation. In addition, reports indicate that the Republican National Committee (RNC) organized special access to the National Mall for this typically public event.

Following the president’s Fourth of July speech, the official White House Twitter account published a highly-produced video of the event, which included footage of the military resources and personnel that the Trump administration utilized for the event. Shortly after the video was published, @TeamTrump, the official Twitter account for the Trump Campaign, re-tweeted the video, which was published on official White House channels.                                                                                    

The full text of the letter is available HERE.