Van Hollen, Colleagues Demand Answers on Trump July 4 Rally

    Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen has joined with two fellow Democrats on the Appropriations Committee, seeking answers about the cost of President Trump’s rally at the Lincoln Memorial on July 4.

    Van Hollen signed on to a letter penned by New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, the ranking member on the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Interior Department, and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the vice chairman of the full committee, urging U.S. Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro to investigate “the costs and impacts associated with President Trump’s decision to expand Fourth of July events on the National Mall.”

    “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 lawmakers wrote.

    They added that they were “troubled” by reports that tickets for the Independence Day rally were offered to Republican donors and political staffers, “which furthers the appearance that taxpayer funds were used to accomplish political objectives.”

    The senators asked the Government Accountability Office, which Dodaro heads, to compare federal agency expenditures for July 4 celebrations on the National Mall for the three previous years; detail where the funding came from; and tally the costs incurred by the District of Columbia government and surrounding states to support the federal effort to attract and protect crowds on the Mall.

    Last month, the three senators wrote to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt demanding answers to similar questions, but he did not respond by their desired June 28 deadline. The National Parks Service, an agency within the Interior Department, controls events on the National Mall.

    In their letter to Dodaro, the lawmakers asked what programs “were delayed, deferred, or cancelled in order to pay for” the Trump July 4 speech and associated events.

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    Josh Kurtz
    Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.