Wednesday March 27, 2019
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Trump’s Idea to Siphon Money for Border Wall Meets Resistance

The military construction budget, in particular, is a tempting target for the administration, but tapping into those funds is politically fraught.

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People gather to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency to build a border wall, at Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York, Feb. 15, 2019. VOA

President Donald Trump’s decision last week to declare a national emergency related to the security of the Southwest border has created confusion and concern on military bases across the country, which could be facing unexpected cuts in funding for major construction projects and drug interdiction programs.

In all, the White House is planning to use authority given to the president in times of national emergencies to redirect $6.1 billion from the Pentagon’s budget to help fund more than 320 kilometers (200 miles) of the wall the president has promised to build on the southern border to stanch the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs. The money would come from the military construction budget ($3.6 billion) and a Department of Defense drug interdiction fund ($2.5 billion.)

The military construction budget, in particular, is a tempting target for the administration, but tapping into those funds is politically fraught. Unlike other money appropriated by Congress, which must be spent (or “obligated,” in budget-speak) in the year it is authorized, military construction funds can be spent over a period of five years. This means there are billions of dollars sitting in Pentagon accounts right now that haven’t been officially spent.

“To my knowledge it’s unprecedented, particularly in military construction,” said Stephen Ellis, executive vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government watchdog. “As opposed to some other accounts, every dollar in that has a target. Every dollar that is appropriated in military construction — there is no slush fund — is actually going to build a particular project on a particular installation at a particular time. There is a victim for every dollar that is taken from that account and directed to the wall.”

 

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FILE – Construction workers check a new section of bollard wall in Santa Teresa, N.M., as seen from the Mexican side of the border in San Jeronimo, on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. VOA

Real-world effects

Redirecting that money to other purposes will have painful real-world effects on communities across the country that were expecting — even depending on — those funds being spent on contracts with local construction firms and other service providers. And all of those communities have members of Congress who carefully monitor federal spending in their districts, many of whom pride themselves on delivering such projects to their constituents.

In Kentucky, for example, more than $140 million in funding was on the books for Fiscal 2019, according to Department of Defense budget documents. That includes a $62 million project to fund a new middle school for the children of service members at Fort Campbell.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Tuesday, Kentucky Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth, who chairs the House Budget Committee, criticized the president’s proposal.

“[T]hese are military families,” he said. “These are the kids of our soldiers, probably some of whom are at the border right now enforcing Donald Trump’s fallacious strategy.”

In Ohio, where construction, among other things, was expected to begin on a new intelligence production complex at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and a new machine gun range at the Army National Guard’s Camp Ravenna, federal funding is now in doubt.

Ohio Republican Congressman Mike Turner, who said in a statement that he generally supports the president’s border strategy, nevertheless added, “I strongly believe securing our border should not be done at the expense of previously funded military construction projects.”

In Texas, home to Republican Congressman Mack Thornberry, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, more than $250 million allocated for military construction projects, including infantry training grounds and medical facilities, is suddenly in question.

Thornberry also said in a statement that he generally supports the president’s goals at the border, but like many other members of Congress, he balked at taking the funds from the military. Doing so, he said, will “undercut one of the most significant accomplishments of the last two years beginning to repair and rebuild our military.”

Appropriations process

Because of rules governing the federal appropriations process, money that has been “obligated” through a federal contracting process cannot be taken back by the administration, so contracts in effect before the declaration of a national emergency will not be affected.

The confusion surrounding what impact the move would have on military facilities was only made worse by conflicting signals from the administration.

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President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border, Feb. 15, 2019, in Washington. VOA

In a Rose Garden appearance in which he announced his plan, Trump suggested that he had identified programs that would lose funding. He said that he had spoken to unnamed “generals” who told him they believed the border barrier to be more important than other projects to which funds had been allocated.

The president himself seemed to say that he had been made aware of programs that could be cut, adding they “didn’t sound too important to me.”

A day later, however, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told Reuters that he would be meeting with service chiefs to identify projects that would lose funding in order to accommodate the administration’s plans.

As of Tuesday morning, a staff member on the House Armed Services Committee said that Congress had still not been made aware of the programs that would be cut to make funding available for the border wall.

Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency has provoked a complex set of reactions from members of Congress.

Many Republicans, including senior figures in the Senate such as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have expressed support for the declaration, saying they agree that the situation on the border amounts to a crisis.

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Senator Marco Rubio questions witnesses before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about “worldwide threats” on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 29, 2019. VOA

Funding method a problem

Even among Republicans who are generally sympathetic to Trump’s insistence that a wall is necessary on the Southwest border, his chosen method of funding is the problem.

The U.S. Constitution specifically grants Congress the sole ability to authorize federal spending, and for more than two years, Congress has specifically refused to provide the president with funding for a border wall. A number of Republican lawmakers are unhappy at what they see as an attempt to end-run the legislative branch.

“We have to be careful about endorsing broad uses of executive power,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said in an appearance on CNBC Tuesday. “If today, the national emergency is border security … tomorrow, the national emergency might be climate change.”

Across the aisle, Democrats have been almost uniformly dismissive of the president’s calls for a border barrier and are even more united in their opposition to his use of emergency authority to fund it.

Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas announced Tuesday that he had secured 78 co-sponsors for a proposed Joint Resolution terminating the president’s emergency declaration. If Democrats are able to pass the resolution in the House, it would force the Republican-controlled Senate to vote on the bill as well.

This would, at the very least, force many Republican senators to go on the record as supporting or opposing Trump’s actions.

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U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, addresses reporters after a ribbon-cutting at a U.S. Coast Guard regional command center, Feb. 20, 2019, in South Portland, Maine. Collins said that she would vote for a congressional resolution disapproving of President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to build a wall on the southern border. VOA

ALSO READ: Now This California Plant May Hold Promise For Treating Alzheimer’s

If it were to pass the Senate — not impossible, given the number of Republican lawmakers who have said they are opposed to the state of emergency declaration — President Trump would still have the ability to veto it. (VOA)

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Trump Celebrates when Found No Evidence of Collusion with Russia in 2016 Election

"There are a lot of people out there that have done some very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country," Trump said

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U.S. President Donald Trump smiles during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump and Republican allies in Congress pledged Monday to carry out their own investigations of his prominent critics and those behind the probe of links between is 2016 campaign and Russian efforts to disrupt the election in favor of Trump.

“There are a lot of people out there that have done some very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country,” Trump said, without specifying anyone in particular. “Those people will certainly be looked at.”

During the investigation, many Democrats repeatedly stated their belief that Trump’s inner circle did collude with Russia and that the president later sought to evade justice — pronouncements that did not go unnoticed by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

 

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U.S. Attorney General William Barr leaves his house after Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion between U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election in McLean, Virginia, March 25, 2019. VOA

“It’s hard to obstruct a crime that never took place,” Sanders told the U.S.-based cable news network, CNN. “The Democrats and the liberal media owe the president, and they owe the American people, an apology. They wasted two years and created a massive disruption and distraction from things that impact people’s everyday lives.”

The comments came after Attorney General William Barr released a summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings from the exhaustive, 22-month probe, which led to dozens of indictments as well as guilty pleas from some of Trump’s closest former associates.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Barr said Mueller concluded that Russia unquestionably meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but that Trump and his campaign did not conspire with Moscow to help him win the White House.

On the question of obstruction, however, Barr wrote, “The report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” On that basis, Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided that charges against Trump were not warranted.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally and the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, promised Monday to “unpack the other side of the story” of the Mueller investigation and to look into how the Justice Department started it.

For nearly two years, Trump had repeatedly blasted the special counsel probe as a “witch hunt.” With the investigation complete, the president said, “We can never, ever let this happen to another president again.”

Reaction from lawmakers

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers had sharply differing reactions.

“For the president to say he is completely exonerated directly contradicts the words of Mr. Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in a joint statement.

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) walks from a Democratic Caucus meeting after Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion between U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 25, 2019. VOA

The Democratic leaders added: “Attorney General Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers. The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said on CNN, “Mueller’s report, at the least the summary that we’ve gotten from Barr, leaves wide open both the question of obstruction, and I think, makes it clear that other investigations should proceed.”

By contrast, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn urged Congress “to move on,” and that “the worst thing we could do is to get bogged down in a relitigation of all of these issues.”

At the same time, Cornyn urged the release of as much of the Mueller report as possible, consistent with Justice Department regulations and U.S. law. He also called for a review of steps taken by federal officials in launching the Russia investigation.

Full report

On Monday, Schumer urged a Senate vote on a resolution calling for the release of Mueller’s full report. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, objected, saying Barr must be given time to determine which portions of the report can be divulged without revealing classified information.

But the six chairs of committees in the Democratically controlled House sent Barr a letter Monday, demanding he turn over the full Mueller report by April 2. They also told Barr to start handing over all evidence the special counsel used to write the report.

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Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks to the media after Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion between U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 25, 2019. VOA

The six Democratic leaders — five men and one woman — say Barr’s four-page summary is not sufficient for Congress to do its work. They also say Congress needs to make an independent assessment of the evidence regarding Trumps alleged obstruction of justice.

Meantime, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he hopes Barr will testify before his panel.

Graham also promised Monday to “unpack the other side of the story” of the Mueller investigation and will look into how the Justice Department started it.

During the investigation, many Democrats repeatedly stated their belief that Trump’s inner circle did collude with Russia and that the president later sought to evade justice — pronouncements that did not go unnoticed by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

“It’s hard to obstruct a crime that never took place,” Sanders told CNN. “The Democrats and the liberal media owe the president, and they owe the American people, an apology. They wasted two years and created a massive disruption and distraction from things that impact people’s everyday lives.”

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But the six chairs of committees in the Democratically controlled House sent Barr a letter Monday, demanding he turn over the full Mueller report by April 2. They also told Barr to start handing over all evidence the special counsel used to write the report. VOA

Investigation numbers

Mueller charged 25 Russians with election interference, although they are unlikely to stand trial because the United States and Russia do not have an extradition treaty.

ALSO READ: No Evidence of Trump ‘Collusion’ with Russia in 2016 Elections: Mueller in Final Report

He also has secured guilty pleas or won convictions for a variety of offenses against six Trump aides and advisers, including the president’s one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort; his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn; and his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Barr’s summary noted that Mueller had 19 lawyers and 40 FBI agents working with him on the investigation, issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, talked to about 500 witnesses and carried out nearly 500 search warrants.