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Trump downplays, defends cost of his Fourth of July event

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Trump downplays, defends cost of his Fourth of July event
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REUTERS/Jim Bourg
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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump downplayed the cost of his Fourth of July celebration Wednesday morning, amid criticism that the event was racking up an unusually high price tag and turning the traditionally nonpolitical Independence Day tradition into a partisan event.

"The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth," Trump wrote on Twitter. "We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel. We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!"

However, The Washington Post reported that the National Park Service is diverting roughly $2.5 million in entrance and recreation fees from parks across the country in order to pay for Trump's celebration on the National Mall on Thursday.

The diverted fees represent just a sliver of the costs. The total expense remains unclear.

Last year, the president's attempts to hold a similar military-style parade around Veteran's Day were ultimately cancelled after government officials estimated the proceedings would cost more than $90 million.

NBC News reported Tuesday that military assets were being transported from around the country to D.C. for the celebration. While some equipment is just outside of Washington, as Trump noted, others — such as two F-35s — are coming from as far away as the Naval Air Station in Lemoore, California. On Tuesday morning, military tanks were first seen arriving here via rail tracks in the southeast part of the city.

Trump is scheduled to deliver his speech at 6:30 p.m. ET at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The remarks will be accompanied by military flyovers and performances by the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, among others. The speech will be followed by two fireworks shows that could last up to 40 minutes.

Phantom Fireworks and Fireworks by Grucci have made donations to help cover the cost of their fireworks show, one of two to be held Thursday.

The event has drawn fire on several fronts, including concerns raised by D.C. officials about the damage such massive military equipment could do to city roads, and criticism by Democratic members of Congress over the politicization of a nonpartisan Washington tradition.

Washington's delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, told NBC's Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday that she was disappointed to see the district's Fourth of July celebration stray from its traditions, and cautioned Trump not to over-politicize such events.

"There are only two real events in our country which have never been politicized. One is Veteran's Day. He found he couldn’t politicize that, so he said here he comes again for July Fourth," Norton said. "He [Trump] has to be very scrupulous on how he handles himself, particularly at events that are not campaign events."

Addressing Trump's tweet earlier that day, Norton pointed out that the president "didn’t mention security costs — imagine what the costs will be for a president to be on the Mall."

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser also raised concerns Wednesday about the cost of the event, saying the district has yet to be fully reimbursed for the cost of Trump's inauguration. While it is not unusual for presidents to exceed their inauguration budgets, Bowser said, "we have always been reimbursed."

"This has been a nonpartisan, fun, family event where people come from all walks of life," Bowser told Mitchell. "We hope that the president will stick to that."