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

Construction firm lands $1.3 billion border wall contract after repeatedly wooing Trump on Fox News

A scandal-plagued company under inspector general probe gets another contract after its CEO appeals to Trump on Fox



Igor Derysh
May 20, 2020 5:43PM (UTC)

A scandal-plagued North Dakota company landed a $1.28 billion contract to build a small stretch of border wall after President Donald Trump repeatedly brought up the firm to officials following the CEO's Fox News blitz.

The Army Corps of Engineers awarded the massive contract to North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel on May 6, the Arizona Daily Star first reported. The funds will be used to build 42 miles of border wall in Arizona. That figure marks the biggest contract awarded to any company for a stretch of wall to date. Fisher previously received a separate $400 million contract last December despite little experience building projects like the border wall.

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When the company's initial bids were passed over by government officials, CEO Tommy Fisher launched a media blitz, The Washington Post reported, repeatedly appearing on Fox News in an effort to directly appeal to Trump. The president an avid viewer of cable news, frequently tweeting about segments he watches. 

"Hopefully the president will see this," Fisher said during one "Fox & Friends" appearance last year.

His effort apparently paid off. Trump pressured the Army Corps of Engineers to award a contract to the firm, a campaign which left senior officials "alarmed" and "concerned," according to The Post.

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"He always brings them up," Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told the outlet last year. "[Fisher's] been very aggressive on TV."

Fisher also appealed to Trump allies like former White House strategist Steve Bannon and former Trump voter fraud czar Kris Kobach for help reaching the president. He was initially hired by Build the Wall, an activist group backed by the two Trump allies, to build 3.5 miles of the wall.

He then repeatedly appealed to Trump through his Fox appearances, which included Maria Bartiromo's Fox Business program

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"The president, if he allows our team of Fisher Industries to play, I guarantee it, no different than Tom Brady: Once we get in, we never come out," Fisher said during an appearance last March. "And if we don't perform, the president can fire us. That's how comfortable and confident I am — is when people see what I really offer."

Fox News host Sean Hannity praised the company in an interview with Trump the following month.

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"I don't know if you heard about this contractor that said he can build a whole wall for a lot cheaper than anybody else and get it done by 2020. Are you aware of that?" Hannity asked.

"Yes, we are dealing with him, actually," Trump replied. "It's Fisher — comes from North Dakota, recommended strongly by a great new senator, as you know, Kevin Cramer. And they are real."

Fisher donated to Cramer's campaign and was the senator's guest at this year's State of the Union. Cramer personally lobbied Trump to hire Fisher and accused the Army Corps of "unfairly" denying Fisher the bid, according to The Post.

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Fisher also paid more than $100,000 to the lobbying firm Odney to help the company secure border wall contracts.

The new contract will pay Fisher more than $30 million per mile of wall, which is actually more than contracts awarded to other companies, according to The Post.

"Each project cost is contingent upon its unique characteristics such as geotechnical, topographical, hydrological and hydraulic, underground utilities, final real estate access and the cost of materials and labor," a spokesperson for the Army Corps told the outlet.

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Trump's move drew scrutiny from Democrats and led to an ongoing investigation by the Defense Department's inspector general into potential "inappropriate influence" surrounding the earlier $400 million contract and whether the company "met solicitation standards."

The company has also paid more than $1 million in fines for a series of environmental and tax violations, according to CNN. Former co-owner Michael Fisher was sentenced to 37 months in prison in 2009 and ordered to pay $300,000 in restitution after he pleaded guilty to nine counts of felony tax fraud. Former company head David William Fisher also pleaded guilty to child pornography charges in 2005 and was sentenced to five years in prison.

House Homeland Security Chairman Benny Thompson, D-Miss., criticized the administration for awarding the company not only a new but also a bigger contract while the inspector general's investigation into the previous contract remains ongoing. Thompson also called out its failure to announce the contract before it was revealed in the Arizona Daily Star.

"It speaks volumes to the administration's lack of transparency that they didn't announce this award — the largest ever — and we continue to learn about contracts to companies without a proven track record from the media," Thompson told The Post. "Given the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing investigation into Fisher, the administration should pause construction and contracting decisions until the investigation has concluded favorably and it is safe to resume nonessential construction projects."

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Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: iderysh@salon.com Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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