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‘Salute to America’ cost double the usual July 4 activities

A Bradley Fighting Vehicle was in place in front of the Lincoln Memorial on July 4, 2019, in Washington.Andrew Harnik/Associated Press/File 2019/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The federal government spent about double the usual amount on the Fourth of July celebration in the nation’s capital last year after President Trump rebranded the annual event, including a push for a military flyover and a display of armored vehicles on the National Mall.

A report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that the tab for the 2019 ‘‘Salute to America’’ cost more than $13 million, well above the $6 million to $7 million that had been spent in the previous three years.

The report says the additional cost was driven by the expense of transporting several military vehicles to the National Mall and the additional security needed for Trump, who attended the event. The president also delivered a 47-minute speech at the Lincoln Memorial, praising Americans’ sacrifice and extolling US military might. Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles were stationed on the National Mall, while a B-2 bomber, F-22 fighter jets, and other aircraft flew overhead.

Critics accused the president of transforming the traditionally nonpartisan celebration of the nation’s founding into a campaign rally. Others, including National Park Service officials, warned that military hardware could damage the area around the Lincoln Memorial.

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“The Government Accountability Office’s report confirms what we knew all along: the president was willing to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer funds — expenses that weren’t budgeted for and roughly doubled what was spent in previous years — to meet his extravagant demands,” Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Tom Udall of New Mexico, and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said in a joint statement. “And now, the Trump administration is at it again.”

The lawmakers, who requested the GAO report, said they have asked the watchdog agency to determine the costs for this year’s event.

Trump administration officials defended their orchestration of last year’s event.

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“‘Salute to America’ is not about politics, it’s about all Americans coming together to celebrate Independence Day, our great armed forces, and their heroic sacrifices, which have preserved our freedoms for generations, and our amazing heritage,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an e-mail.

Warnings have been made about the Trump administration’s plans for this year’s celebration. The plans include a giant fireworks display for July 3 at Mount Rushmore, despite a 10-year ban on such shows because of the risk of wildfire posed to thousands of acres of forest land. Firefighters battled a wildfire just this week 6 miles from Mount Rushmore.

Environmental officials have said toxic residue from the fireworks pose a pollution threat to the national memorial’s drinking water. Health experts have warned that the event will draw crowds that can easily spread the novel coronavirus.

Trump plans to attend the Mount Rushmore event and celebrate the actual holiday from the White House with events that include a military flyover.