“It must be investigated”: Trump donors get $569 million contract to build 17 miles of border wall

Watchdog group demands probe after no-bid contract pays Republican-connected firm $37 million per mile of wall

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published April 17, 2020 12:59PM (EDT)

US President Donald Trump visits the US-Mexico border fence in Otay Mesa, California on September 18, 2019. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump visits the US-Mexico border fence in Otay Mesa, California on September 18, 2019. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

A watchdog group called for an investigation after the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a large no-bid contract to build a small stretch of border wall to a company owned by a major Republican donor.

The Army Corps of Engineers revealed Tuesday that it had awarded a $569 million contract to BFBC, an affiliate of Barnard Construction, to build 17.17 miles of the border wall in California. The contract pays more than $33 million per mile, even more than the $20 million per mile that the administration has spent on wall construction thus far.

The company, which has extensive ties to Republican lawmakers, has already received more than $1 billion to build 37 miles of the border wall, according to The Daily Beast. It originally received $141 million to build parts of the wall in Arizona, but the contract quickly grew to $443 million without any real explanation. An Army spokesperson told the outlet that the company got the new no-bid contract because it was already "mobilized and working."

Barnard Construction, the parent company BFBC, is owned by Timothy Barnard. Barnard and his wife Mary donated $5,600 to President Donald Trump's re-election last year after backing several of his Republican opponents in 2016, according to Federal Election Commission data. Barnard has also donated to Sens. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., John Cornyn, R-Tex., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

The company's leadership has donated more than $50,000 to the Montana Republican State Central Committee, according to the Daily Beast, and contributed tens of thousands to support Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.

Scott Amey, the general counsel at the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, told the outlet that the contract needs to be investigated.

"$1 billion for 37 miles of wall is a travesty and it must be investigated and audited immediately," he said. "That's nearly $27 million per mile, which is well above other wall costs. These efforts might make good on a campaign promise, but who is minding the store and ensuring that military readiness and bases are not negatively impacted?"  

Laura Peterson, a former staffer on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, also questioned why the government was focused on border wall construction as it faces steep costs in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

"Pushing more money out the door for border-wall construction while COVID-19 puts the country into economic arrest reflects dubious priorities," she told The Daily Beast.

A group of House Democrats urged the Trump administration to halt border wall construction in order to focus on the health crisis days before the contract was awarded.

"In a time when our communities face the prospect of rationing ventilators and other life-saving care, all of our government's resources should be spent on building hospitals and medical equipment, and ensuring that the public is safe and healthcare workers have all of the resources they need to face this unprecedented crisis," four Democrats wrote in a letter to the Pentagon, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security.

"There's no decency factor when it comes to this wall," Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the lead signatory of the letter, told The Daily Beast. "These are cronies of Trump. The financial base, they're getting taken care of. Irrespective of the pandemic, the opposition to the wall, the environment, health, indigenous [concerns], all the court cases, this vanity wall proceeds at a rapid pace."

The Daily Beast's Noah Shachtman noted that the Army "somehow" found $569 million despite warning just a month earlier that it needed billions in extra funding to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Journalist John Aravosis pointed out that the money could have instead bought "a couple billion N95 masks" desperately needed by health workers.

Former Obama State Department official Dan Baer argued that the story perfectly encapsulated the foundations of the Trump presidency: "massive corruption," "racist nationalism" and "negligent incompetence."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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