Trump 'disagrees' with privately funded border wall, but gives builder $1.7 Billion in contracts to erect more walls

President Trump now claims this privately funded border wall — touted as the “Lamborghini” of fences — was built to “make me look bad,” even though the project’s builder and funders are Trump supporters.

President Donald Trump complained via Twitter on Sunday that a privately constructed border wall in Texas was a bad idea and poorly done — not mentioning that his administration has awarded the builder a $1.7 billion contract to build more walls.

With the backing of Trump supporters, Tommy Fisher built a 3-mile border fence along the Rio Grande, calling it the “Lamborghini” of fences. But just months after  completion of his showcase piece directly on the banks of the river, there are signs of erosion along and under the fence that threatens its  stability and could cause it to topple into the river if not fixed, experts told ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.

“I disagreed with doing  this very small (tiny) section of wall, in a tricky area, by a private  group which raised money by ads. It was only done to make me look bad,  and perhsps it now doesn’t even work. Should have been built like rest  of Wall, 500 plus miles,” Trump tweeted with a typo in reaction to the news organizations’ report about the wall.

Trump’s tweet, however, is belied by actions his administration has taken to support the wall’s builder.

The administration gave Fisher the billion-dollar contract in May to build additional stretches  of the wall in Arizona, despite a lawsuit around the South Texas project  and an ongoing audit by the Pentagon’s inspector general of a previous border wall contract that is looking into possible “inappropriate influence.”

On Sunday, the congressman who called for the audit responded to the president’s tweet.

“The President isn’t telling the truth again. The Administration has awarded huge contracts  to the same company, which is under Federal investigation, that built  this fence,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., wrote in an email. “His Administration has also entertained outsourcing to private firms to get more mileage done before the election at the expense of proper oversight. There is no reason for construction to continue during a pandemic.”

The Army Corps of  Engineers has said Fisher won the federal contract to build a segment of the border fence in Arizona because it was the lowest bid.

U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick of the Southern District of Texas called the private wall a “vanity project’ and a “scam.”

His office sued Fisher Sand and Gravel, its subsidiaries, and We Build the Wall on behalf of the International Boundary and Water Commission, to stop it from building  the fence until it submitted a detailed engineering study to determine  its impact on the flow of the Rio Grande and nearby properties. The  commission is a binational body that regulates development in the  floodplain between the U.S. and Mexico to ensure boundary treaties aren’t violated.

“We already owned the land a  few hundred yards from the river and it cut the peninsula instead of  following the river,” Patrick tweeted Sunday. “We said it was too close  to the water, erosion would be an issue, the location made no sense,  etc. Now we risk the thing falling down in a big storm/flood.”

Six engineering and hydrology experts consulted by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune said that it was concerning to see the level of erosion around the fence so  soon after construction and that it shouldn’t have been built so close  to the river.

Just months after the wall went up, the experts said photos reveal a series of gashes and gullies  at various points along the structure where rainwater runoff has scoured  the sandy loam beneath the foundation.

Fisher disagreed with the  experts, saying that it’s surface erosion where grass that was planted  took longer to grow, but that it doesn’t compromise either the fence or  the adjacent road. He said he hoped Trump could personally see what  they’ve built.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane instructed attorneys to work out details of the inspection and to come to an agreement about the remediation and fixes for a part of the fence that violates a treaty with Mexico by deflecting too much water during floods.

In total, Fisher has  secured $1.7 billion in federal contracts since December. Soon after the  2016 election, Fisher became a frequent guest on Fox News and other  conservative media, where he caught the attention of Trump. Last year, The Washington Post reported that the president “latch(ed) on” to Fisher’s claims of speed and  quality and “aggressively pushed” for the firm in conversations with top  Homeland Security officials.

Fisher was also aided by a close relationship with freshman U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who advocated for the company with Trump and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared  Kushner. Fisher and family members donated at least $24,000 during  Cramer’s victorious 2018 election bid, according to campaign finance  records.

Cramer declined to comment on the private wall project, but wrote, “Like President Trump, I want to see the wall built. It needs to be done quickly and done right.”

Fisher’s rise to border  wall building came with the help of the conservative nonprofit We Build  the Wall, which counts former Trump political strategist Steve Bannon as  a board member.

On Sunday, Brian Kolfage, its founder and a decorated Iraq War veteran, countered Trump’s tweet.

“The private wall that @WeBuildtheWall built and funded is @DHSgov @CBP ENDORSED and APPROVED. Never forget it,” he tweeted, along with a video of Border Patrol leadership supporting its initiatives.

In a December video no longer online, Kolfage told Alicia Powe of Gateway Pundit, a far-right news and  opinion website, that his group had a back channel to the administration  via board member Bannon and general counsel and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who let Trump know what We Build the Wall is  doing.

“We’ve gotten the support of the president first hand, we’ve had people to meet with the president who have informed him directly of what’s going on, and President Trump  loves what we are doing,” he said.

“But he doesn’t come out and support much because we believe that the leftists will try to use it against him by saying ‘this private industry is doing more than he’s  doing’ and things like that, they’ll try to spin it, so we believe that’s why he’s quiet about it up on the forefront but supports us in the back,” he added.

We Build the Wall has raised $25 million to help Trump achieve his campaign promise of 500 miles of border barriers before the end of the year; so far he’s built more than 200 miles, with much of the work replacing dilapidated and shorter fences. Initially, the idea was to give the funds to the federal government, but when that wasn’t legally possible, the group shifted its mission to helping the administration build the fence using private companies.

Attribution to Perla Trevizo and Jeremy Schwartz of ProPublica.

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This article is co-published with The Texas Tribune, a  nonprofit, nonpartisan local newsroom that informs and engages with  Texans. Sign up for The Brief weekly to get up to speed on their essential coverage of Texas issues.