Politics|Pentagon Investigator to Examine Border Wall Contract Awarded to G.O.P. Donor
WASHINGTON — The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Defense will investigate a $400 million contract for border wall construction awarded to a North Dakota company after President Trump privately pushed the deal.
The chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, called for the inquiry into the decision made by the United States Army Corps of Engineers last week, raising concerns of “inappropriate influence.” Mr. Thompson wrote in a letter that Fisher Sand & Gravel “did not meet the operational requirements of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and its prototype project came in late and over budget.”
Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general for the Department of Defense, wrote a letter to Mr. Thompson on Thursday saying the watchdog would investigate the contract for Arizona wall construction to see if it met solicitation standards.
“In response to your request, we have decided to initiate an audit of the solicitation and award of this contract,” Mr. Fine said in the letter to Mr. Thompson. “We are assessing the methodology of that audit and will formally announce the audit soon.”
The Defense Department’s internal watchdog announced this week it would also broadly examine the military’s activities at the southern border.
The North Dakota investigation is the latest setback for Mr. Trump’s border wall. Earlier this week, a federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide injunction preventing the Trump administration from using $3.6 billion in military construction funds, secured through a national emergency declaration, to erect a wall along the southern border, ruling that the declaration was unlawful. A judge also blocked a private group from building its own wall.
The North Dakota company had never been awarded a construction contract before, Mr. Thompson said in a statement. “Given the president’s multiple endorsements of this company and the amount of taxpayer money at stake, I remain concerned about the possibility of inappropriate influence on the Army Corps’ contracting decision,” he said.
Mr. Trump had lobbied the Army Corps of Engineers to choose the North Dakota company, despite opposition from military officials who raised concerns about the company’s standards, according to one current and one former administration official. The company’s chief executive, Tommy Fisher, has repeatedly gone on Fox News to cheer for the border wall, a public appeal on the president’s favorite news channel that has helped others win senior positions in the Department of Homeland Security.
The Washington Post also reported this summer that Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota and an early endorser of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, held up the confirmation of a White House official as he attempted to steer contracts to Fisher.
Senator Cramer, who received a $10,000 campaign donation from Mr. Fisher and invited him to Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address last year, issued a congratulatory statement to the media last week when the contract was awarded to the North Dakota company.
The activist group, “We Build The Wall,” has also publicly campaigned for Fisher Sand & Gravel and hired the company to construct barriers in El Paso using private donations. Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, sits on an advisory board for the group. Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state who has privately advised Mr. Trump on immigration matters, is its general counsel.
Mr. Trump so far has built about 86 miles of border wall in places where there were previously damaged barriers or vehicle barriers. The administration only last month started building wall in an area where there previously were no barriers.
Eric Schmitt and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.