WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing to take money from military construction funds more than six months after first promising to do so in order to build sections of the wall along the US-Mexico border, according to multiple administration and defense officials.
Though it’s unclear which military construction would be put on hold, the move could put at risk projects such as command and control, drone, cyber and training facilities in the US and overseas.
White House officials have held talks in the last weeks to begin planning for the move, two administration officials said, which would shift funds from the Department of Defense’s military construction budget to fund the border wall. The move would rely on President Donald Trump’s February emergency declaration, which has faced stiff legal challenges.
In July, however, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the Trump administration to use $2.5 billion in counter-drug funding from the Department of Defense to construct parts of the wall while a court battle plays out over whether the government had the authority to divert funds that were not appropriated for the wall.
The use of these additional military construction funds could invite a new legal challenge.
Administration officials said the action was in the works but that it was unclear when the Pentagon would officially begin shifting the funds.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Defense officials have told CNN that the tapping of military construction funds has been undergoing a lengthy legal review by the Department of Defense and it is unclear whether this process has been completed, something that has to occur before Secretary of Defense Mark Esper can sign off on their use, a move that is bound to draw opposition from some members of Congress and court challenges.
In order to repurpose the funds the defense secretary has to certify that the new project they are funding is supporting US military operations.
On August 22, construction began for approximately 124 miles of border wall system, using $2.5 billion from a different pot of Defense Department funding. That wall — which will be in the El Paso, El Centro and Tucson regions — will replace dilapidated or outdated barriers, according to Customs and Border Protection.
As of August, no new miles of wall have been built, only replacement of old barriers and vehicle barriers. The administration argues the replacement construction has provided a new capability.
An additional approximately 5 miles is anticipated to start construction in September 2019.
Additionally, “since April 2018, the Department of Defense has obligated approximately $450 million for Active Duty and National Guard deployments to the southwest border in support of the Department of Homeland Security,” the Pentagon said in a statement to CNN on Thursday, money that has paid for the thousands of troops deployed in support of the border.
The President has held regular meetings with aides demanding to know why more hasn’t been done on the wall. He recently told aides he would pardon them if they committed illegal acts while fulfilling his demand to build a wall on the southern border by 2020, two officials confirmed to CNN. The Washington Post first reported the pardon comments.
While his spokesmen say he was only kidding, the eyebrow-raising assurances come as Trump has urgently told aides he’s serious about finishing the wall — stressing that it could be key to his reelection.
Officials had previously told CNN that they intended to tap the military construction funds only after contracting border wall construction using other pots of money at the administration’s disposal, including Treasury asset forfeiture funds, Pentagon counter-drug funds and money appropriated by Congress.
Trump announced his intention to shift $3.6 billion in military construction funds toward building border wall in February. It is unclear if the Defense Department will commit the full amount immediately, especially as the move is likely to draw a legal challenge.