More DOD funds to be di­verted for wall

Trump seeks $7.2 bil­lion from mil­i­tary’s build­ing, coun­ter­drug pro­grams

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY NICK MIROFF

Pres­i­dent Trump is pre­par­ing to di­vert an ad­di­tional $7.2 bil­lion in Pen­tagon fund­ing for bor­der wall con­struc­tion this year, five times what Congress au­tho­rized him to spend on the project in the 2020 bud­get, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­nal plan­ning fig­ures ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Post.

The Pen­tagon funds would be ex­tracted, for the sec­ond year in a row, from mil­i­tary con­struc­tion projects and coun­ternar­cotics fund­ing. Ac­cord­ing to the plans, the fund­ing would give the gov­ern­ment enough money to com­plete about 885 miles of new fenc­ing by spring 2022, far more than the 509 miles the ad­min­is­tra­tion has slated for the U.S. bor­der with Mex­ico.

Trump took $2.5 bil­lion from mil­i­tary coun­ter­drug pro­grams for bor­der bar­rier con­struc­tion in 2019, but this year his ad­min­is­tra­tion is plan­ning to take sig­nif­i­cantly more — $3.5 bil­lion. Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials also are plan­ning to take $3.7 bil­lion in mil­i­tary con­struc­tion fund­ing, slightly more than the $3.6 bil­lion di­verted in 2019.

The move would bring the to­tal amount of fed­eral funds al­lo­cated to bor­der fenc­ing to $18.4 bil­lion un­der Trump, who made the bor­der bar­rier a pri­or­ity dur­ing his cam­paign for the pres­i­dency in 2016. He also pledged to make Mex­ico pay for the bar­rier, de­light­ing crowds at his ral­lies.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has com­pleted 101 miles of new bar­ri­ers so far, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est fig­ures, far less than the 450 miles the pres­i­dent has promised to erect by the end of the year. But con­struc­tion along the bor­der — largely on land the fed­eral gov­ern­ment al­ready owns — has been con­tin­u­ing even as le­gal challenges have aimed to dis­rupt it.

A fed­eral-dis­trict court in El Paso ruled last month that the White House broke the law when it com­man­deered funds for the bor­der wall that had been au­tho­rized by Congress for an­other pur­pose. The court froze $3.6 bil­lion the ad­min­is­tra­tion bud­geted for new bar­ri­ers.

But the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pealed that rul­ing, and last week the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the 5th Cir­cuit, in New Or­leans, lifted the in­junc­tion, say­ing work could pro­ceed while le­gal challenges to the gov­ern­ment are pend­ing.

The pres­i­dent and his ad­min­is­tra­tion viewed that rul­ing as ad­di­tional en­cour­age­ment to take the money again this year, ac­cord­ing to ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the plans.

The White House did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment Mon­day, and a Pen­tagon spokesman de­clined to com­ment.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kush­ner, a se­nior White House ad­viser whom the pres­i­dent had placed in charge of the bor­der wall project, had dis­cus­sions last sum­mer with top mil­i­tary of­fi­cials about once more si­phon­ing money from the Pen­tagon bud­get to con­struct the bar­ri­ers. But those plans were on hold be­cause of the le­gal challenges to the ma­neu­ver.

Sev­eral dozen Pen­tagon con­struc­tion projects were de­layed or sus­pended as a re­sult of last year’s re­pro­gram­ming of $3.6 bil­lion, in­clud­ing road re­pairs, a waste treat­ment plant and school con­struc­tion projects on mil­i­tary bases. It’s un­clear if those projects will be de­layed again, or if a dif­fer­ent set of re­pairs and im­prove­ments could be post­poned.

The White House asked Congress for $5 bil­lion for 2020 bor­der bar­rier con­struc­tion, and Trump’s de­mand led to the 35day gov­ern­ment shut­down a year ago. The shut­down ended with Democrats agree­ing to pro­vide just $1.4 bil­lion in tax­payer fund­ing and the White House turn­ing to mil­i­tary bud­gets to ob­tain bil­lions more.

Congress au­tho­rized nearly $700 bil­lion in de­fense spend­ing for 2020, a slight in­crease over last year’s lev­els.

The fed­eral ap­peals court in New Or­leans ruled 2 to 1 last week that the plain­tiffs su­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to block the use of the mil­i­tary funds — El Paso County, Tex., and the Bor­der Net­work for Hu­man Rights, an ac­tivist group — prob­a­bly lacked the le­gal stand­ing to make the chal­lenge.

The de­ci­sion came six months af­ter the U.S. Supreme Court is­sued a sim­i­lar rul­ing lift­ing an in­junc­tion from a fed­eral court judge in Cal­i­for­nia that tem­po­rar­ily blocked the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s first at­tempt to re­pro­gram mil­i­tary funds.

The 5th Cir­cuit panel said the ad­min­is­tra­tion would be en­ti­tled to the same relief granted by the Supreme Court in that de­ci­sion.

Stephanie Gr­isham, the White House press sec­re­tary, cel­e­brated the court’s rul­ing in a state­ment, say­ing it had “lifted an il­le­git­i­mate na­tion­wide in­junc­tion” and “in do­ing so has al­lowed vi­tal bor­der wall con­struc­tion to move for­ward us­ing mil­i­tary con­struc­tion funds.”

“This is a vic­tory for the rule of law,” Gr­isham’s state­ment said. “We are com­mit­ted to keep­ing our bor­ders se­cure, and we will fin­ish the wall.”

Home­land se­cu­rity of­fi­cials have re­peat­edly moved the goal posts to scale back Trump’s am­bi­tious con­struc­tion tar­gets, bring­ing crit­i­cism that they have not worked fast enough to de­liver on the pres­i­dent’s sig­na­ture prom­ise.

Dur­ing an event at the bor­der in Yuma, Ariz., last week mark­ing the com­ple­tion of the 100th mile of bar­rier, Chad F. Wolf, act­ing home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary, said the ad­min­is­tra­tion has not fallen be­hind.

“I can tell you that we re­main con­fi­dent that we are on track to 400, 450 miles that are ei­ther com­pleted or un­der con­struc­tion by the end of 2020,” Wolf told re­porters.

It was the first time an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial had counted bar­ri­ers “un­der con­struc­tion” toward the pres­i­dent’s pledge to com­plete 450 miles by Elec­tion Day.

MATT YORK/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Work­ers put up a sec­tion of Pen­tagon-funded wall in Yuma, Ariz., in 2019. Sev­eral dozen Pen­tagon con­struc­tion projects were de­layed or sus­pended af­ter last year’s re­pro­gram­ming of $3.6 bil­lion.

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