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Trump confronts corruption concerns over proposed border wall

Usually, one of the problems with Trump and his border wall is the frequency with which he lies about it. Now he's facing concerns about the contracting process
President Donald Trump talks with reporters as he reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.
President Donald Trump talks with reporters as he reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.

As a rule, one of the most glaring problems with Donald Trump's plan to build a giant border wall is the frequency with which he lies about it. Just this week, the president boasted at a campaign rally, "The wall is being built as we speak. We'll have almost 500 miles of wall by the end of next year." As the Associated Press noted soon after, this was not a claim the public should take seriously.

Indeed, the "almost 500 miles" claim is an escalation from a month ago, when the Republican told the NRA, "We will have over 400 miles of wall built by the end of next year." That wasn't true, either.

But Trump's public deceptions are only part of the problem. The Washington Post published a new report overnight on concerns about the the president corrupting the contracting process.

President Trump has personally and repeatedly urged the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to award a border wall contract to a North Dakota construction firm whose top executive is a GOP donor and frequent guest on Fox News, according to four administration officials.In phone calls, White House meetings and conversations aboard Air Force One during the past several months, Trump has aggressively pushed Dickinson, N.D.-based Fisher Industries to Department of Homeland Security leaders and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general of the Army Corps, according to the administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal discussions. The push for a specific company has alarmed military commanders and DHS officials.

Well, yes, I imagine it did alarm military commanders and DHS officials. There's no reason in the world for a president to pressure federal officials to hire a specific contractor.

And yet, that's exactly what Trump has reportedly done. In fact, the Post reported that Pentagon officials were summoned yesterday, told the president wanted to discuss the border barrier, and at the meeting, Trump "immediately brought up Fisher."

It's worth understanding why.

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 a few months ago.

Cramer and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner are reportedly among the company's allies.

But there's another element in the Post article that stood out for me:

Trump has latched on to the company's public claims that a new weathered steel design and innovative construction method would vastly speed up the project -- and deliver it at far less cost to taxpayers. [...]Fisher's chief executive, Tommy Fisher, has gone on conservative television and radio, claiming that his company could build more than 200 miles of barrier in less than a year.

Ah, yes, now this is making sense. After all, Trump runs his presidency through his television remote. It's very easy to believe he saw one of Fisher's many Fox News appearances, heard the North Dakotan make bold claims about quick construction, and effectively started asking officials soon after, "Why don't we give that guy a lucrative contract?"

Of course, this isn't how the federal contracting process is supposed to work, but since when does Trump care about such trivialities?

Postscript: I'm just touching on some of the highlights from the Washington Post's article, which you should read in its entirety. There are some related details about Fisher suing the government, building privately-funded border barriers, and having extensive political contacts, including with prominent figures such as Steve Bannon. Erik Prince, Tom Tancredo, and Kris Kobach.

Update: There are plenty of examples of Trump making substantive decisions based on reports he saw on Fox News.