President Donald Trump reportedly told officials in his administration that he would pardon them if they had to break any laws to get hundreds of miles of his border wall built before the next presidential election, according to a report Tuesday night in The Washington Post.
“Don’t worry, I’ll pardon you,” the president has allegedly told aides worried about his instructions to seize private land through eminent domain, flout environmental rules or push through billion-dollar contracts.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reported remarks. The Post spoke with an anonymous administration official who said Trump was merely joking when he made those statements.
The president has used his vow to have 500 miles of border wall constructed by the next election as an applause line at his campaign rallies. He reportedly has instructed aides to get the structure built at any cost.
But though construction has been active on the border, almost all of the money awarded to wall contracts has gone toward replacement fencing and barriers. Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said this week that 60 miles of fencing had been replaced, but he moved to cast that construction as “absolutely a new wall” in an interview with Fox News.
Axios reported this week, however, that “not a single mile of wall has been built where no barrier previously existed,” even though the Department of Homeland Security has also been touting the replacement barrier as “new.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that Trump, who has requested about $8 billion in total for the new wall, could go forward with plans to access about $2.5 billion from the Pentagon budget to build the structure. The president declared a national emergency in February in a bid to fund it without congressional approval, saying he had the authority to redirect the money after a months-long impasse with lawmakers.
Hogan Gidley, a deputy White House press secretary, told the Post on Tuesday that any comments critical of the wall within the administration were merely “fabrications by people who hate the status quo.”
“President Trump is moving quicker than anyone in history to build the wall, secure the border and enact the very immigration policies the American people voted for,” Gidley said.
In response to the Post story, Trump alleged that newspaper made up the report that the president said he would pardon aides in order to “to demean and disparage” him.
The Post reported earlier this year that Trump had directed officials to increase some security measures along the wall, despite the multimillion-dollar cost. The president reportedly told aides that he wants the barrier to be painted “flat black,” a color that would absorb heat from the sun and make the metal slats too hot for people to climb. He also told officials and engineers to make the tips of the slats pointed, a signal that climbing the barrier could cause serious injury.
Doing so on an estimated 175 miles of the wall would cost $70 million to $133 million more, the Post noted, citing internal communications.