National Park Service employees spent nearly 4,000 hours working on the Republican National Convention’s massive pro-Trump fireworks show at the National Mall this summer, according to Park Service records obtained by CREW. The display immediately followed former President Trump’s final RNC acceptance speech, and culminated with fireworks spelling out “TRUMP” over the National Mall. The Park Service’s total labor costs for the show were more than $177,000, which the RNC appears to have reimbursed.
The new records quantify the amount of time one agency spent promoting Trump’s reelection campaign, and raise questions about why the RNC was allowed to commandeer so many federal employees, at cost, to put on a political spectacle during their convention.
This fireworks show was far from the only instance of inappropriate overlap between the Trump campaign and the Trump administration. The corrupt efforts included other fireworks displays, taxpayer-funded propaganda videos, directives to tag the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account in official agency tweets, countless Hatch Act violations and more.
CREW obtained the records as part of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Interior Department. The lawsuit aims to uncover the extent to which government employees were used to promote Trump’s 2020 campaign, the terms of the Park Service’s reimbursement agreements with the RNC, and any communications with the RNC about the event.
The Park Service’s participation in the RNC quickly drew backlash from ethics experts, who observed that the timing of the “fireworks with a major prime-time campaign speech is the most clear cut example yet that Trump seeks political benefits from using government property as a backdrop.” Experts added that “it’s very difficult for career [Park Service] officials to refuse a request, from the White House or any other entity.”
Using the government as a campaign tool puts one candidate at a distinct advantage over the other, and undermines a free and fair election. It’s hard to imagine, for instance, that the Trump administration would have allowed the Biden campaign to commandeer a government agency in order to put on a show during the Democratic National Convention.
Last week, President Biden had his own fireworks show on the National Mall to commemorate his inauguration. Although the extent of the Park Service’s involvement in that event is unclear, time spent by government employees on a presidential inauguration does not raise the same ethics concerns as government employees working a partisan event promoting the sitting president’s reelection campaign.
The new records show 3,957 labor hours valued at $177,176 provided by government employees and do not include the costs of the fireworks themselves. The records also show that at least 18 Park Service employees and an unidentified number of Park Police employees were assigned to work the event, likely without any choice in the matter.
The RNC reportedly agreed to reimburse the Park Service for the costs of putting on the fireworks display, and Federal Election Commission filings reveal that the RNC made payments to the Park Service on August 24 and August 25 totaling more than $640,000.
The use of government labor in a naked attempt to keep the president in power was a shocking departure from well-established norms. For Trump, it was just another step in a long journey of trying to use the government for his personal bidding. Having effectively turned the executive branch into a wing of the Trump campaign, it should’ve come as no surprise that he would try to use the other two branches of government to overthrow the results of a fair and free election to keep him in the White House.