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Pentagon watchdog to audit controversial border wall contract

Trump personally intervened in a contracting matter, pressing the Army Corps of Engineers to award a contract to a company whose CEO he saw on Fox News.

Last week, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) urged the Pentagon's inspector general to investigate the Trump administration's controversial border-wall contract with Fisher Industries. As NBC News reported, it looks like the Democratic congressman's request was persuasive.

The Defense Department's internal watchdog plans to review a recent Army Corps of Engineers decision to award a $400 million contract for border wall construction to a North Dakota company that has been publicly and privately endorsed by members of the Trump administration, including the president himself.The review of the award to Fisher Sand & Gravel is an audit by the Pentagon's inspector general and comes in response to a request by Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

"In response to your request, we have decided to initiate an audit of the solicitation and award of this contract," Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, told Thompson in a letter obtained by NBC News. "We are assessing the methodology of that audit and will formally announce the audit soon."

Under the circumstances, this seems like an obvious next step. As we discussed last week, North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel won a lucrative, $400 million government contract to build 31 miles of border barriers in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The decision followed Donald Trump's personal intervention in the matter, with the president pressing the Army Corps of Engineers to award Fisher the contract.

Trump's lobbying ignored officials' warning that Fisher did not meet the necessary standards for the contract.

Circling back to our earlier cover, the first signs of trouble emerged in May, when Trump “personally and repeatedly” started lobbying U.S. officials, including the head of the Army Corps of Engineers, to award government contracts to Fisher Industries. The Washington Post reported at the time that the presidential lobbying efforts “alarmed” military commanders and officials at the Department of Homeland Security.

That, of course, was the proper response to the circumstances.

As we discussed in the spring, the fact that Fisher’s CEO, Tommy Fisher, is a Republican donor seems like an obvious issue. In fact, the chief executive and his wife were generous supporters of Sen. Kevin Cramer’s (R-N.D.) campaign, and the GOP senator welcomed Fisher as his guest at Trump’s State of the Union speech earlier this year.

But in this case, that’s only part of the problem. The latest reporting suggests Trump didn’t support Fischer because of campaign contributions; rather, the president intervened because he saw Fisher on Fox News.

Indeed, the Post’s latest report added, “Trump has been enamored with Tommy Fisher, the company’s chief executive, who has made multiple appearances on Fox News to promote his firm and insists that it would do a better job than those the government had already chosen.”

Philip Bump took a closer look in May at how the North Dakota company reached the White House’s radar:

To reach [Trump], Fisher appeared on Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends” for a sit-down interview on March 5. He was on Maria Bartiromo’s morning show on Fox Business Network on April 3. Early the next morning, he was interviewed on the Fox News early morning talk show “Fox and Friends First.” Asked if he supported Trump’s effort to build the wall, Fisher said he did.On April 16, his company was covered on Fox News’ show “Special Report with Bret Baier.” The segment was used the next morning in another “Fox and Friends First” segment. On April 21, the news show “Fox Report” covered Fisher’s proposal, including a pretaped interview with him.The pinnacle of that effort, though, came on Sean Hannity’s program on April 25.

There’s no shortage of examples of Trump making substantive decisions based on things he saw on Fox News, but this is ridiculous. Is it any wonder the Pentagon's internal watchdog is taking a closer look?