Trump claims he saved almost $999,800,000 on US embassy in Jerusalem

President Donald Trump spent roughly 10 minutes of an hourlong speech Thursday night in Indiana telling the story of how he saved nearly $999,800,000 on controversial plans to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a claim he has made before in the months leading up to the facility’s opening on Monday.

The administration did announce plans in February to designate a US consular facility in Jerusalem as the US Embassy but the process of building a new permanent embassy in the city will take years.

After opening the embassy next week, the US will build out additional office space at the consular facility by the end of 2019. But that space, too, will be temporary as the US works to identify a site and build a permanent embassy in Jerusalem.

“In parallel, we have started the search for a site for our permanent embassy to Israel, the planning and construction of which will be a longer-term undertaking,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in February.

But Trump once again failed to mention that distinction Thursday while telling the crowd that the US would spend only “$200,000 to $300,000” on the new embassy versus a $1 billion proposal he said he was initially presented with.

A State Department spokesperson told CNN on Friday that Nauert’s statement still stands but added that they have “started the process of site selection for a permanent embassy in Jerusalem and “are looking at all sites we currently lease or own.”

“We expect site selection, design, planning and permitting, and construction of a permanent embassy in Jerusalem to take seven to 10 years,” the spokesperson said, adding that it is too early to assess the likely cost.

Trump says he was asked to sign a $1 billion plan to build a new embassy nearly three months ago after announcing the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“So they walk up to my desk and they give me this beautiful folder and I’m supposed to sign. I said, ‘What is this?’ And I’m half signed. He said, ‘Sir, we are building an embassy in Jerusalem, sir.’ I said, ‘How much?’ ” Trump told the crowd on Thursday.

“They said — I kid you not — they said, ‘Sir, $1 billion,’ ” he said.

According to his recollection, Trump immediately stopped signing the proposal and called his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who said that rather than building the embassy on a new site, he could renovate a building already owned by the US, and do it for just $150,000.

“I said, ‘David, you can do that for $150,000. … You know what, spend $200,000-$300,000 — that’s OK too,’ ” Trump said.

The State Department confirmed Friday that the cost of the initial modifications that were made to the interim site, allowing it to open on Monday, was under $400,000.

“As the President stated, the cost of initial modifications made to permit the embassy to open on Monday was under $400,000. We are also planning for construction of a new extension at the interim site as well as for additional security enhancements, at an additional cost. We’re still assessing the final costs,” a spokesperson for the State Department told CNN.

“The Arnona building from which the Embassy will initially operate opened in 2010. It is the newest and most secure US facility in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It has provided, and will continue to provide, consular services to American citizens and visa applicants. Those will continue uninterrupted after the May 14 opening as part of the new US Embassy,” the spokesperson said.

Trump also touted the timing of the embassy’s opening, joking that if he had agreed to the original proposal for a new complex, he would need an “extension on the presidency” to see the project through.

“The new embassy, I said, ‘When is it going to be open?’ ” Trump recalled. “They said, ‘Anywhere between five to 10 years.’ So I said, ‘Unless they give me an extension for the presidency.”

“So they said five to 10 years, and you know when they say five to 10 years they really mean 15 to 20 years, right? So we open the embassy next week — three months. Three months!” he exclaimed.

This is not the first time Trump has omitted certain details regarding plans for a US Embassy in Jerusalem: He made a similar claim in March while sitting alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office.

“We’ll have it built very quickly. A lot of people wouldn’t be doing it quickly like that. We’re going to have it built very quickly and very inexpensively,” Trump said at the time when asked about plans for the new embassy.

“They put an order in front of my desk last week for $1 billion. I said, ‘A billion? What’s that for? We’re going to build an embassy.’ I said, ‘We’re not going to spend $1 billion.’ We’re actually doing it for about $250,000. So check that out,” he said.

“Now, it’s temporary but it’ll be very nice,” Trump quickly added, turning to a visibly chuckling Netanyahu and saying, “$250,000 versus a billion dollars … is that good?”


Trump Claims He is Building a $250,000 Embassy in Jerusalem. He is Lying.

Real estate nowadays is expensive.

Have you seen the prices in Jerusalem lately? You can barely buy a two-room apartment for less than 2 million shekels. (That’s about $577,000).

What’s any of this got to do with U.S. politics? At a meeting at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Trump told reporters that he had rejected a $1 billion plan to build a new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Instead, he’s going to build one for just $250,000.

What a deal!

But that’s not quite the whole story.

What did Trump say?

Here’s what Trump said in full about the cost of the new embassy with Netanyahu by his side:

“We’ll have it built very quickly. A lot of people wouldn’t be doing it quickly like that. We’re going to have it built very quickly and very inexpensively. They put an order in front of my desk last week for $1 billion. I said, ‘a billion? What’s that for? We’re going to build an embassy.’ I said, ‘We’re not going to spend $1 billion.’ We’re actually doing it for about $250,000. So check that out.”

Trump quickly added: “Now, it’s temporary, but it’ll be very nice.”

He then boasted: “$250,000 versus a billion dollars.”

Turning to an already laughing Netanyahu, he asked rhetorically, “Is that good?”

What was Trump talking about?

We checked it out. Is the United States somehow building “it,” as in a permanent embassy, for $250,000?


Trump was probably conflating two things: a permanent new embassy to be built years from now and a temporary embassy office the U.S. is building inside an existing consular building in Jerusalem to be set up by May, NPR diplomacy correspondent Michele Kelemen and international correspondent Daniel Estrin, based in Jerusalem, report.

“Internal modifications to allow the embassy to open in an existing facility in May is anticipated to cost $200,000 to $400,000,” a State Department official tells Kelemen.

As for financing the permanent embassy, The Associated Press reported in late February:

“The Trump administration is considering an offer from Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson to pay for at least part of a new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, four U.S. officials told The Associated Press.

“Lawyers at the State Department are looking into the legality of accepting private donations to cover some or all of the embassy costs, the administration officials said. …

“In one possible scenario, the administration would solicit contributions not only from Adelson but potentially from other donors in the evangelical and American Jewish communities, too. One official said Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate and staunch supporter of Israel, had offered to pay the difference between the total cost — expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars — and what the administration is able to raise.”

In January, Trump chafed at the $1 billion cost of the new U.S. Embassy in London. He canceled a trip to London for a ribbon-cutting because he said it was a “bad deal.”

The U.S. Embassy in London remarkably put out a statement defending itself, as NPR’s Frank Langfitt reported.


Trump Threatens to End American Aid: ‘We’re Watching Those Votes’ at the U.N.

President Trump threatened on Wednesday to cut off American aid to any country that votes in favor of a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly denouncing his recent decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Mr. Trump’s statement, delivered at his last Cabinet meeting of the year, followed a letter from the American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, in which she warned that the United States would take note of any country that votes in favor of the measure.

“All these nations that take our money and then vote against us at the Security Council or the assembly, they take hundreds of millions of dollars and billions of dollars and they vote against us,” Mr. Trump said. “Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

Mr. Trump added that “people are tired of the United States — people that live here, our great citizens that love this country — they’re tired of this country being taken advantage of and we’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer.”

It is difficult to see how Mr. Trump could deliver on his threat to cut financial assistance, since it could involve cutting off aid to a number of strategic allies. The United States has given $77.4 billion in foreign aid to Egypt between 1948 and 2016, according to the Congressional Research Service, including about $1.3 billion in annual military aid since 1987.

The General Assembly is scheduled to vote on Thursday on a resolution that would condemn Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, which is fiercely contested by Israelis and Palestinians, and urge other countries not to move their embassies to that city from Tel Aviv.

Mr. Trump said earlier this month that the United States would move its embassy to Jerusalem, though administration officials said a move was several years away because of logistical issues in constructing a new embassy complex.

On Monday, the United States used a rare veto to block a resolution in the Security Council calling for the administration to reverse its decision on Jerusalem. The vote on the resolution, which was drafted by Egypt, was 14 to 1, suggesting there would be a similarly lopsided margin against the United States in the 193-member General Assembly.

[The New York Times]