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U.S. weighs Sheldon Adelson offer to fund Jerusalem embassy

The building of the former Diplomat Hotel in

The building of the former Diplomat Hotel in Jerusalem, seen here on Dec. 12, 2017, is considered one of the options to host the new U.S. embassy headquarters after its relocation from Tel Aviv. Credit: AFP/Getty Images / THOMAS COEX

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is considering an offer from Republican mega-donor 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 officials said. The discussions are occurring as the administration plans a ribbon-cutting for a scaled-down, temporary embassy that will open in May — more than a year ahead of schedule.

In one possible scenario, the administration would solicit contributions not only from Adelson but also potentially from other donors in the evangelical Christian and American Jewish communities, too. One official said Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate and staunch Israel supporter, 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.

Under any circumstance, letting private citizens cover the costs of an official government building would mark a significant departure from historical practice. In the Jerusalem case, it would add yet another layer of controversy to Trump’s politically charged decision to move the embassy, given Adelson’s long-standing affiliation with right-wing Israeli politics.

The move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed holy city cleared a final bureaucratic hurdle this week when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed off on the security plan. In a letter sent to Congress, the State Department said the interim facility’s inauguration will coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence on May 14.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Trump said Friday of the embassy relocation.

The White House declined to comment on the Adelson proposal. An Adelson spokesman didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

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