The Rio Grande is a river, but given more time, Mr. Trump may turn it into a swamp.
by Editorial Board, Washington Posts
President Trump, no stickler for bureaucratic procedure, had no qualms about pushing the Army Corps of Engineers to award a major construction contract for his border wall to a North Dakota firm whose chief executive repeatedly went on Fox News to tout the project and his company’s ability to build it. That presidential meddling, now the subject of a Pentagon investigation, worked out nicely for Fisher Sand & Gravel, which won $1.7 billion in border wall contracts — despite having virtually no track record in construction.
Now, the president is bashing a segment of the wall in Texas that Fisher built as a showcase private project that, according to engineers who have examined photos of the erosion at its base, is at risk of falling into the Rio Grande. “It was only done to make me look bad, and [perhaps] it now doesn’t even work,” Mr. Trump tweeted Sunday.
It may not work, but it was hardly done to embarrass the president. Both Tommy Fisher, the firm’s eponymous chief executive who lobbied for wall contracts, and a conservative nonprofit group that launched the project on private land with money raised online, are vociferous supporters of the president. The board of the nonprofit, called We Build the Wall, includes Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist.
Mr. Trump’s wall is a troubled vanity project. Just 200 miles have been built — not the 500 he promised would be complete by the end of this year — and most of that is replacement for existing segments that were shorter or run-down. Smugglers have sawn through and climbed over parts of the new barrier.
It’s hard to say which looks worse for the president — the massive waste of money that has been diverted from Pentagon construction projects to build his porous wall, or the corruption that has marked the process. The Defense Department’s inspector general’s office announced in December it was investigating whether inappropriate influence was a factor in a $400 million contract awarded to the Fisher firm. In addition to the president’s intervention in the contract, pressure was also applied by Sen. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican who received at least $24,000 in campaign contributions from Mr. Fisher and his relatives when he ran for office in 2018.
Even after the Pentagon launched its investigation, further large contracts went to Fisher to build parts of the wall in Arizona. Yet as the nonprofit journalism group ProPublica and The Texas Tribune reported, Fisher’s initial wall-building venture — a three-mile segment right along the Rio Grande, finished just months ago, mainly at the firm’s own expense — is in danger of toppling as a result of erosion from rainwater runoff at its base, according to a half-dozen engineering and hydrology experts. U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick, the top federal prosecutor for the Southern District of Texas, called the venture a “scam” and sued the firm.
Undeterred, the administration is considering approval of other private barrier-building projects as components of Mr. Trump’s wall. The Rio Grande is a river, but given more time, Mr. Trump may turn it into a swamp.