September 08, 2020

Following Flagrant Misuse of National Park Sites for Republican National Convention, Udall and McCollum Demand Answers

Trump and Republican party used the White House and national park sites as a political stage, possibly illegally

WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M) and U.S. Representative Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), ranking member and chair of the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, respectively, pressed the National Park Service (NPS) for answers after President Donald J. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Republican party leaders used the White House and national park sites as political stages for the Republican National Convention. The lawmakers demanded a full account of the official resources and personnel, paid for by taxpayer dollars and on public land belonging to all Americans, that likely violated the Hatch Act, Department of Interior regulations and policies, and other restrictions against government resources from being used for partisan political events.

“We are deeply disturbed that the President continues to use our nation’s park system—sites that include some of our country’s most iconic symbols of freedom—to advance his partisan political agenda,” Udall and McCollum wrote. “Most recently, the Republican National Convention hosted several political campaign events on federal property that raised significant ethical concerns, may have been in contravention of the Hatch Act, and used federal resources inappropriately or possibly even illegally. This includes President Trump’s campaign speech at the White House, Vice President Pence’s campaign speech at Fort McHenry, and the fireworks display at the Washington Monument – which we note spelled out “T-R-U-M-P” in the sky above our nation’s capital. These activities are both outrageous and legally suspect.

“As Chair and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittees on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies of the House and Senate, we are examining the extent to which these events used taxpayer-funded historic and cultural resources to support the President’s re-election and if these activities were conducted consistent with Federal law, Federal regulations, and Department guidelines or policies,” Udall and McCollum continued.

Udall and McCollum further outlined the concerning legal implications of national park land and personnel use for partisan political purposes. “We understand that the Hatch Act does not apply to the President and Vice President, but National Parks Service (NPS) staff were clearly involved in the planning and execution of this event which calls into question their ability to comply with the Hatch Act. Although we are deeply troubled by these events, we understand the reality that NPS staff were acting under the direction of the chief of the executive branch, President Trump. However, while NPS staff must follow their chain of command, the agency must also provide Congress with the information necessary to fulfill its Constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch.”

The lawmakers concluded by requesting detailed accounts of the government resources that NPS used to support the Republican National Convention to determine the department’s actions to comply with U.S. law under the Hatch Act and the criteria and legal justification for providing a permit to use the White House, the Washington Monument, and Fort McHenry for partisan political or campaign activities.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Ms. Everson:

We are deeply disturbed that the President continues to use our nation’s park system—sites that include some of our country’s most iconic symbols of freedom—to advance his partisan political agenda. Most recently, the Republican National Convention hosted several political campaign events on federal property that raised significant ethical concerns, may have been in contravention of the Hatch Act, and used federal resources inappropriately or possibly even illegally. This includes President Trump’s campaign speech at the White House, Vice President Pence’s campaign speech at Fort McHenry, and the fireworks display at the Washington Monument—which we note spelled out “T-R-U-M-P” in the sky above our nation’s capital. These activities are both outrageous and legally suspect. 

As Chair and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittees on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies of the House and Senate, we are examining the extent to which these events used taxpayer-funded historic and cultural resources to support the President’s re-election and if these activities were conducted consistent with Federal law, Federal regulations, and Department guidelines or policies.

We also note that, according to Director’s Order #53: Special Park Uses, “The Hatch Act establishes general provisions governing participation in political activities by executive branch employees” (5 CFR 734.101). We understand that the Hatch Act does not apply to the President and Vice President, but National Park Service (NPS) staff were clearly involved in the planning and execution of this event which calls into question their ability to comply with the Act. Although we are deeply troubled by these events, we understand the reality that NPS staff were acting under the direction of the chief of the executive branch, President Trump. However, while NPS staff must follow their chain of command, the agency must also provide Congress with the information necessary to fulfill its Constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch.

To this end, we request that you provide the following information by September 30, 2020:

- A full accounting of the amount of NPS staff time and resources spent supporting the Republican National Convention, including planning and preparation, during the event itself and afterwards;

- A description of specific actions taken by the Department to ensure that the participation of Department staff, including both political appointees and career officials, fully complied with relevant statutory or policy restrictions on political activity;

- All information submitted for the permits, including cost estimates; compliance with 36 CFR 2.51, specifically (c)(2), or the justification for any deviation; and an assessment of how the issuance of these permits disrupted normal public use (amount of time the American public was prohibited access);

- A list of permits issued for political activities at NPS sites, including those of similar size and scope;

- The criteria and legal justification for providing a permit to use the White House, the Washington Monument, and Fort McHenry for partisan political or campaign activities, including details on the specific type of permit. approved and how that approval complies with Federal law, Federal regulations, Department policies and procedures, and past precedent;

- The name of the entity or entities assigned responsibility for any cost reimbursements and the timeline for reimbursement;

- A description of the nature of the reported damage to the Fort McHenry site and the cost associated with the repairs, as well as which entity was assigned legal responsibility for paying for the repairs and the timeline for such payment. 

We look forward to receiving your responses.

Sincerely,