WaPo: Trump 'aggressively' pushing for GOP donor to get border wall contract

Paper says Trump's favorite is frequent Fox guest

By Devan Cole, CNN
Copyright 2019 CNN

US-Mexico border wall fence.

(CNN) - President Donald Trump has "aggressively" pushed for the Army Corps of Engineers to award a contract to a North Dakota-based construction company to build sections of his proposed wall along the southern US border, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

Citing conversations with multiple unnamed administration officials, the paper said the President has been pushing Department of Homeland Security leaders and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers, to award a contract potentially worth billions of dollars to Fisher Industries, "whose top executive is a GOP donor and frequent guest on Fox News."

The Post said Trump's push for the contract with Fisher, which is suing the federal government over its solicitation process for border wall contracts, "has alarmed military commanders and DHS officials."

The President, who has "repeatedly" lobbied on behalf of the company to officials, again brought it up on Thursday during an Oval Office meeting about the border wall with Semonite, the paper said. Trump, according to officials the Post spoke to, "immediately brought up Fisher" during the meeting.

The Post said Trump has taken a liking to Fisher because of 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."

A senior White House official told the Post that Trump, who was told Fisher was cheaper and more efficient than other companies, "had not told Semonite he must award the contract to the company but had repeatedly brought up Fisher Industries as an option because he sees the process as too expensive and too slow."

In a statement to the Post, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders touted Trump's ability to "negotiate the best deals," and said, "He wants to make sure we get the job done under budget and ahead of schedule."

The White House did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment on Thursday.

The Army Corps, which oversees the selection of companies for the construction of the wall, decided Fisher's proposal "didn't meet the requirements of the project" and wasn't as high-quality as others, according to the paper.

In a statement to the Post, Raini W. Brunson, a spokesperson for the Army Corps, said it "goes to great lengths to ensure the integrity of our contracting process."

The paper said Fisher has already started constructing sections of border wall on privately owned land along the border using private funds.

In a statement to the Post, Scott Sleight, an attorney for Fisher, said the company's "goal is to, as expeditiously as possible, provide the best quality border protection at the best price for the American people at our Nation's border."

Sleight did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment on Thursday.

The Post said Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law and senior adviser, and Sen. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, have also begun lobbying on behalf of Fisher for a contract with the government.

Cramer told the Post that Trump "always brings them up," referring to Fisher, and added that the President has spoken to him about the company twice this year.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to accurately reflect who was present for the Thursday Oval Office meeting according to The Washington Post's reporting.

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