The border wall that President Trump has long dreamed of building has become a symbol of many things about his presidency: his megalomania; his demagoguery about desperate migrants; his contempt for empirical, reality-based governing; his prioritizing of the base’s prejudices and fantasies above all else.
Soon enough, Trump’s wall might become an overarching symbol of his presidency’s seemingly bottomless corruption, too.
In a tour de force of reporting, Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey of The Post serve up some extraordinary new revelations about Trump’s quest for his wall — and his anguish about the failure to build it thus far. Among the main points:
Trump has privately instructed aides to skirt laws and regulations to get the wall built faster — and told them he will pardon them if necessary. A White House official claims Trump is joking when he offers pardons, but this obviously doesn’t make it acceptable. In fact, it stands as confirmation that Trump actually has said this — leaving his underlings in the position of interpreting it as a real directive and offer. This demands further scrutiny.
Trump has privately admitted a wall isn’t the best way to stop illegal immigration — but he has told top aides that if he fails to deliver, it would be a letdown to supporters heading into reelection. Indeed, in private meetings, Trump has justified this position by musing about the loud cheers his wall receives at rallies.
Trump has not delivered on the wall. Sixty miles of replacement barriers have been built during the Trump presidency — all in areas where infrastructure previously existed. This explains Trump’s anguish about getting more done faster.
All of that is remarkable enough. But it must not be allowed to overshadow this:
Trump has recently urged the Army Corps to award a contract to a company he favors, North Dakota-based Fisher Industries, though the firm has not been selected. Fisher has been aggressively pushed by Trump ally Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who briefly held up the confirmation of a Trump budget office nominee last month in an attempt to put pressure on the Army Corps.
Cramer demanded to see the contracts awarded to Fisher’s competitors, lashing out at the “arrogance” of the Army Corps in emails to military officials after he was told the bidding process involved proprietary information that could not be shared. The CEO of Fisher Industries is a major backer of Cramer and has donated to his campaigns.
In other words, Trump is pressuring a government agency to give a contract for his wall to a company whose chief executive is a donor to one of his top GOP allies in Congress.
This is not the first time this has been reported — see this Post piece from May — but it takes on new meaning in the context of the latest revelations. Now that we see how urgent Trump is about getting his wall built in time for reelection, the fact that he’s pressuring an agency to grant this contract shows he’s trying to hook up a politically connected crony while also perverting the governing process to stick to a political timetable — all to give his crowds something to chant about at his reelection rallies.
In short, Trump is corrupting the process in his own uniquely multifaceted and awful way.
The Fox News-Trump corruption nexus
It is a truly remarkable situation. As The Post’s previous piece on this detailed, Tommy Fisher, the chief executive of the company, has found his way into Trump’s head by appearing repeatedly on Fox News, where he’s vowed to get his portion of wall built really quickly, a message that is aimed straight at Trump’s brain stem.
Incredibly, Cramer, the ally of Trump who scoops up political donations from that chief executive, frankly admits to this:
Cramer said Trump likes Fisher because he had seen him on television advocating for his version of the barrier: “He’s been very aggressive on TV,” Cramer said of the CEO.
“You know who else watches Fox News?” Cramer asked.
Trump has responded by aggressively pushing this company to officials with the Army Corps and Homeland Security Department. As The Post reports, this has alarmed officials who rightly see it as grossly improper.
Add to this the fact that Trump is dangling pardons to officials to get the wall built faster — joke or not — and behind the facade of craziness, you once again find astonishing levels of corruption and contempt for normal governing practices.
Similarly, in April, when Trump raged about closing down the border to asylum seekers entirely, we talked about how crazy it was. But some digging revealed that Trump had also instructed officials to break laws to carry out his directive — and dangled a pardon to one in the process. This, too, was explained away as a “joke.”
And amid all of Trump’s unhinged displays at the Group of Seven meeting, the president ultimately revealed his intention to host the next G-7 meeting at his resort in Florida — another act of profound corruption and contempt for conventional conflict-of-interest norms.
Remember when Stephen K. Bannon, the keeper of the Trumpist nationalist flame, talked about blowing up the “administrative state”? Well, one thing he was referring to is getting rid of pesky bureaucrats and governing processes that get in the way of handing out governing spoils to cronies who will return the favor by building Trump’s wall and shutting out migrants a lot faster.
In this sense, all of this is a reminder that Trump’s populist nationalism and his corruption are two sides of the same coin.