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Pentagon authorizes $1B in counter-drug money for Trump's border wall
The Pentagon has approved the transfer of up to $1 billion to build 57 miles of President Trump's southern border wall, according to a Defense Department statement released Monday night.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan notified Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen of the transfer in a letter, released alongside the statement, which said the money will go to block "up to 11 drug-smuggling corridors along the border."
Shanahan "authorized the commander of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning and executing up to $1 billion in support to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Patrol," according to the statement.
"These funds will be used to support DHS's request to build 57 miles of 18-foot-high pedestrian fencing, constructing and improving roads, and installing lighting within the Yuma and El Paso Sectors of the border in support of the February 15 national emergency declaration on the southern border of the United States."
The statement adds that the Pentagon has such authority to transfer the money "to construct roads and fences and to install lighting to block drug-smuggling corridors across international boundaries of the United States in support of counter-narcotic activities of Federal law enforcement agencies."
The Trump administration plans to use roughly $8 billion to build barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, with $6.1 billion of that pulled from Pentagon accounts. A total $2.5 billion is expected to be taken from counter-drug programs and $3.6 billion from military construction funds.
The move is likely to draw intense questioning from lawmakers, whom Shanahan will go in front of when he testifies before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
House members are also scheduled to vote to override Trump's veto regarding his national emergency declaration, but that vote is not expected to receive enough support from Republicans to succeed. Trump's declaration authorized the use of Pentagon funds that were not originally appropriated by Congress for the construction project.
The Pentagon last week sent Congress a list that included $12.8 billion of military construction projects that funds could be pulled from for a wall, but has not yet said which projects could be postponed if funding is shifted.
Lawmakers are demanding more answers from the Pentagon, as there is widespread worry that moving funds will be a detriment to military readiness and put troops at risk.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller warned as much earlier this month in two memos to senior military leaders. The four-star general wrote that Trump's deployment of active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border and transferring Defense Department funds to support the administration's border security efforts is creating "unacceptable risk" to the service's combat readiness.
Neller added that because of the administration's "unplanned/unbudgeted" border deployment last fall and emergency declaration funding efforts, he has had to cancel or reduce planned military training in at least five countries as well as delay badly needed base repairs.
CNN reported that following the letter's release, all Democratic senators on the Senate Appropriations Committee's subpanels on defense and on military construction and veterans affairs signed a letter to Shanahan objecting to the move.
"We strongly object to both the substance of the funding transfer, and to the Department implementing the transfer without seeking the approval of the congressional defense committees and in violation of provisions in the defense appropriation itself," the senators write.
"As a result, we have serious concerns that the Department has allowed political interference and pet projects to come ahead of many near-term, critical readiness issues facing our military."