Three Civil War battlefields could get Trump's first salary donation

A 12-pounder Napoleon cannon, a standard weapon used by both sides in the Civil War, stands guard over downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River Valley from the top of Lookout Mountain, the most scenic part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
Giovanna Dellorto | AP
A 12-pounder Napoleon cannon, a standard weapon used by both sides in the Civil War, stands guard over downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River Valley from the top of Lookout Mountain, the most scenic part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

The National Park Service has identified projects in three national parks — all Civil War or Revolutionary War battlefields — that could receive money donated back to the government from President Trump's presidential salary.

At the top of the list are two restoration projects at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, both of which would cost about $78,000 — almost exactly the amount Trump donated from his first three months of his salary as president.

The National Park Service says no final decision has been made. But records obtained by USA TODAY under the Freedom of Information Act show how the agency scrambled to quickly find suitable projects after the president's surprise donation, with the well-visited Chickamauga and Chattanooga quickly rising to the top of the list. The park, which straddles the Georgia and Tennessee border, saw more than 1 million visitors last year.

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The records also suggest that Trump intends to deduct his donation from his federal income taxes.

In a letter accompanying the check, Trump attorney Sherri Dillon directed that it be used for "exclusively public purposes." That's a key condition under the Internal Revenue Code for donations to government entities to be tax deductible. And in its acknowledgement of the gift, the National Park Service confirmed that "no goods or services were received in exchange" for his donation — another condition for a tax deduction.

Trump did not direct that his first quarter's salary be used for any particular park, but Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke quickly settled on a battlefield. "We're about $100 or $229 million behind in deferred maintenance on our battlefields alone, and that's on our 25 national battlefields," he said at an April 3 ceremony in the White House briefing room.

Park Service records show Zinke's office was most interested in projects at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Dedicated five years before Gettysburg, it's the nation's oldest battlefield park.

The two projects identified for possible funding are the repair of a section of the Point Park trail, which is threatened by erosion, or to restore the Ochs Museum, built in 1938 at the northernmost point of the Lookout Mountain Battlefield.

Also evaluated for possible funding were monuments at Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi and Kings Mountain National Military Park in South Carolina.

Trump's donation appeared to catch the Park Service off guard, with accountants wondering whether Trump's check might have been lost in the mail.

The check used in the White House presentation had an outdated address printed on it, and the accountants were worried the check might have gone to a Reston, Va. post office box the agency hadn't used in 17 years.

The check was eventually deposited in a National Park Service account on April 17, the records confirm.