Tanks and politicos are streaming into D.C. for Trump’s July 4 celebration.
But with two days to go, it’s chaos.
Vendors and officials involved with organizing Trump’s “Salute to America” event — set to be held at the Lincoln Memorial — told TPM that it was hastily planned, and as of Tuesday evening, just two days before the event, the military had yet to say where the dozens of tanks that have been ferried into the city will go on July 4.
“If any [military] assets were going to be placed anywhere or traverse city roads or city assets, we would be informed of that and help coordinate that,” Director of D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency Chris Rodriguez told TPM Tuesday afternoon. “So if and when that happens, we’ll let you know.”
The Salute to America event is crammed into the otherwise normal schedule of July 4 celebrations in the nation’s capital, which include a concert, parade, and fireworks display every year.
Trump’s Salute to America event is a separate hour devoted to Trumpworld, set to feature a speech from the President, a potential show of tanks and airplanes, and his own fireworks display. But it seems event was put together in a rush.
Phantom Fireworks CEO Bruce Zoldan, whose company is donating fireworks for Trump’s Salute to America event, told TPM that “this should have been planned a lot sooner than it was.”
“Typically, a show like this should be done six months in advance for preparation and planning,” Zoldan said.
Yet, Zoldan said he and Phil Grucci, who runs the family firm Fireworks by Grucci, only started talking about working on a show in February when President Donald Trump tweeted that there would be a “Major fireworks display” on the Fourth.
Grucci, who served as a vendor for Trump’s inauguration, then began reaching out to people in Washington and eventually signed on to run the fireworks show for Trump’s event.
Rodriguez, the D.C. official, told TPM that planning for Salute to America began sometime between April and May.
Officials involved in planning similar events suggested to TPM that the timeframe was drastically shorter than what would typically be expected for an event of this scale.
“This is going to look very militaristic, because the only organization that can pull it together on such short notice is the military,” said Greg Jenkins, a political consultant who ran Bush’s 2004 inaugural.
Another former official involved in planning the 1991 post-Desert Storm military parade in D.C. told TPM that it took nine months to pull the effort together.
“But we did not use tanks in the parade for the very reason the Trump Administration is being questioned about doing so: it does damage to the roads,” the official said.
Other elements of the spectacle have raised eyebrows, particularly the revelation that the White House is doling out exclusive tickets to the event for its political allies via the Republican National Committee as HuffPost reported. This raises questions about whether massive federal government resources are being devoted to a partisan political effort.
A White House spokesperson did not deny to TPM that the RNC had received tickets to the event.
“There is a ticketed area for VIPs, friends and family, members of the military, and veterans,” the spokesperson said.
“It is not a political event,” he added later. “It’s a Salute to America and our independence.”
An RNC official told TPM that it was “standard practice for the RNC to receive a small number of tickets to events just as the DNC did under Democrat Presidents.”
TPM found that the Maryland GOP received tickets for the event, and boasted about receiving them direct from the White House.
“Thanks to our friends at the White House, we at the Maryland GOP have tickets for President Trump’s Fourth of July “Salute to America” celebration at the Lincoln Memorial,” reads a newsletter sent out by a Maryland GOP Committewoman Nicolee Ambrose asking those interested to RSVP for the event.
Ambrose added in the message: “I am excited to see this new approach for the 4th of July in front of the Lincoln Memorial!”
Neither Ambrose nor the Maryland GOP replied to requests for comment.
In an unusual bit of choreography, the fireworks show associated with Salute to America will run directly before the annual, previously contracted fireworks show from Garden State Fireworks.
The shows are stacked one atop the other: Trump’s event will take place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and the corresponding fireworks will be launched from behind the monument, on the shores of the Potomac River. Garden State’s show, which was long launched from the reflecting pool, has been moved south of that site, down to West Potomac Park.
Though the fireworks vendors insisted otherwise — and Garden State didn’t respond to an interview request — competition was clearly in the air.
“I’m not putting that [Garden State] show down — it’s one or two shells at a time. Ours are going to be dozens and dozens at a time,” Zoldan, whose company donated fireworks to the Salute to America event, told TPM.
However, what the Garden State show lacks in speed, National Mall Superintendent Jeff Reinbold said in a press conference Friday, it will make up for in girth.
“The ones that will be farther south are the larger ones that you’ve seen in the past,” he said. “Those go up over 1,000 feet.”
Grucci granted that the placement of his Lincoln Memorial show meant that fireworks size would be “slightly restricted.”