Trump Team Wanted to Militarize the Inaugural Parade: Pentagon Balked
March 23, 2017
Jessica Schulberg / The Huffington Post
The Presidential Inaugural Committee was "seriously considering adding military vehicles to the Inaugural Parade," a Pentagon official wrote in an email dated Dec. 13, 2016. "Such support would be out of guidelines," another Pentagon official wrote. Critics noted the idea of sending tanks and missile launchers down Pennsylvania Avenue would evoke comparisons with the massive military parades in China and North Korea. They were also concerned that the heavy tanks could damage D.C. roads.
Trump's Team Said It Didn't Ask For Military Vehicles
At Inauguration. Emails Show It Did.
Jessica Schulberg / The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON (March 22, 2017) -- The month after Donald Trump won the presidential election, his staff asked the Pentagon to send photographs of military tactical vehicles that he could include in his inaugural parade, emails obtained by The Huffington Post show.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee "is seriously considering adding military vehicles to the Inaugural Parade," a Pentagon official wrote in an internal email dated Dec. 13, 2016. "The conversation started as 'Can you send us some pictures of military vehicles we could add to the parade,'" the official wrote.
The emails, which were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, corroborate HuffPost's January report that Trump, who has spoken favorably of public displays of military prowess, looked into deploying heavy military equipment in his inaugural parade.
Asked in December about plans to use military equipment during the occasion, a Trump aide refused to address the matter on the record but offered a vehement off-the-record denial. It's not clear whether the aide was aware of the conversations referenced in the Pentagon emails, and he did not respond to a request for an explanation.
The author of the Dec. 13 email, whose name was redacted, appeared uncomfortable with the request from the Trump team. "I explained that such support would be out of guidelines, and the costs associated with bringing military vehicles to the [National Capital Region] would be considered reimbursable."
The Pentagon typically works closely with presidential inaugural committees to plan the parades. But the military usually provides support in the form of musical groups and color guards rather than heavy military equipment.
When Trump's team floated the idea of sending tanks and missile launchers down Pennsylvania Avenue, some worried it might resemble the massive military parades in North Korea, a source involved in inaugural preparations told HuffPost in January. They were also concerned that the heavy tanks could damage D.C. roads.
The military wasn't sure how to respond to the Trump team's December inquiry, the emails show. "I'm extremely reluctant to produce an improvised list of military vehicles that we might be held to," the Pentagon official wrote. "Also concerned that we as a command need an opportunity to staff this request and to make deliberate decisions about vehicle choice and configuration, paint scheme, uniform for crew members, etc. before we start providing pictures which might be regarded as binding."
Conversations with Trump's inaugural staff were still in the preliminary phase and "completely off the record" the official wrote. "But the establishing guidance has come from the highest level. I do believe they will be making the request."
Requests for the use of military equipment in inaugural parades have to be approved by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Ultimately, the Trump team decided against filing a formal request for military vehicles. Instead, they asked for multiple flyovers of fighter aircraft.
"Great news," one Pentagon official wrote on Dec. 27, responding to an email confirming that the Trump team had abandoned its efforts to procure "military tactical vehicles" for the parade.
Trump's inaugural planning committee asked for a flyover from each military service and an additional flyover from "one of the demonstration teams" -- a possible reference to the Navy's Blue Angels, the Air Force's Thunderbirds, or the Army's Golden Knights Parachute Team. The military rejected the demonstration team but approved four aircraft each for the Air Force, the Navy, the Army, the Marines and the Coast Guard.
Trump specifically told his staff he wanted to see an F-35 and an F/A-18 Super Hornet flying overhead during his parade, a Pentagon official wrote in a Jan. 11 email. That request may have been part of Trump's bid to pit defense manufacturing giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing against one another. Weeks earlier, Trump tweeted:
Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump
Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!
The Pentagon approved the use of both aircraft, but Trump never got to see his fighter jets in action on his inauguration day. The military canceled all flyovers on Jan. 20, citing poor weather conditions.
Jessica Schulberg is the Foreign Affairs Reporter for The Huffington Post.
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