President Donald Trump visiting the U.S.-Mexico border along the Rio Grande in January 2019, not far from where a builder backed by his supporters later erected a border wall.

President Donald Trump visiting the U.S.-Mexico border along the Rio Grande in January 2019, not far from where a builder backed by his supporters later erected a border wall. Evan Vucci/AP file photo

Trump Says He 'Disagreed' With Privately Funded Wall, So Why Did His Administration Award the 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.

So far, it has worked on two fence projects, a half-mile stretch in New Mexico outside El Paso, completely funded by We Build the Wall and constructed by Fisher’s company, and in the Rio Grande Valley city of Mission. In Texas, We Build the Wall donated only $1.5 million, with Fisher putting in the rest of the $42 million project.

In this part of Texas, the government normally builds miles inland, on top of a levee system, in part because of flooding concerns. That has left swaths of farmland, cemeteries and even homes in a kind of no man’s land south of the fence.

Both Fisher and Kolfage have said they have hundreds of miles of riverfront property where they could build more fences like the one in South Texas.

The Department of Homeland Security recently signaled it was open to outsourcing border wall construction to private industry, a change Kolfage said was a direct result of the private wall projects, “proving the power of private enterprise.”

Out of 30 possible locations the government identified for potential private fence projects, 23 are in Texas.

Fisher said now that they see where the erosion is happening they will work to remediate it, either by adding what he called “more aggressive soil” to get the grass to grow or by adding drainage ditches. They budgeted between 1 and 2% of the project’s cost for maintenance, he said.

“This is our project until DHS says that ‘we want it.’ If not, we’ll maintain it for as long as I live because I think it’s the right way to build,” Fisher said Sunday. “To protect the Southern border you got to build the border fence on the border.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.