Watchdogs: Trump’s Independence Day gala in 2019 cost $13M

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s Fourth of July gala in the nation’s capital last year cost taxpayers more than $13 million, twice as much as previous celebrations, government watchdogs reported Thursday. Trump’s desire to have Department of Defense military vehicles participate helped drive up the cost, as did the president’s attendance on the National Mall.

Trump’s military-focused Independence Day event went beyond the traditional concert on the Capitol lawn featuring the National Symphony Orchestra and fireworks beginning at dusk near the Washington Monument. Trump altered the lineup last year by adding his own speech from near the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, shifting the fireworks closer to that landmark and summoning an array of tanks and warplanes to entertain the crowds.

The Interior Department called it an “an incredible celebration,” but refused to comment on the costs last year or the scheduled events for this year.

The Government Accountability Office estimated that holiday celebrations from 2016 to 2018 cost from $6 million to $7 million annually. Its estimate for 2019 did not include costs such as the military flyovers of the National Mall.

The White House has said Trump plans to mark the holiday this year by attending a fireworks show July 3 at Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota and then celebrating in the nation's capital on Independence Day.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump will host from the White House’s South Lawn and the Ellipse, with music, military demonstrations and flyovers. The president also is expected to deliver remarks.

The White House has said this year's event will have a different look because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Three Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee had asked for the GAO investigation of how much the federal government spent on the 2019 festivities.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a statement that the findings showed careless use of unbudgeted taxpayer money to meet Trump’s “extravagant demands.”

The senators, in a letter to the GAO that was released Thursday, requested that the agency examine costs for the Trump's Fourth of July plans this year.

The president appears to “intends to use these Fourth of July celebrations as a way to marshal the resources of federal agencies to conduct de facto political events with official funds,” Udall and Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., wrote congressional investigators.

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