Pentagon transfers $1B to help build Trump's wall

The Pentagon has moved ahead with its plan to transfer $1 billion from its accounts to help build President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE’s border wall, despite congressional backlash and the possibility that the Defense Department will lose its ability to move dollars between accounts in the future.

Defense Department Chief Financial Officer David Norquist told lawmakers on Wednesday that the money was transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday night.

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Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Five things to watch for at Defense nominee's confirmation hearing Press: Acosta, latest to walk the plank MORE told reporters traveling with him to Florida that the Pentagon always planned to move forward with the plan to shift the money, no matter the expected “consequences," Defense News reported.

“We’re following the law,” Shanahan said. “We’re very sensitive to the consequences of these kinds of actions, and the relationships we’ve built up over time. There are going to be consequences, and I understand the position of the committees. I also have a standing legal order from the commander in chief.”

The reprogramming of funds comes after Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, rejected the Pentagon’s bid to shift the money, adding his weight to the growing group of lawmakers that have condemned the move.

“The Committee denies the request,” Visclosky wrote in a Tuesday letter to Norquist that was made public the following day. “These funds were neither requested nor appropriated for the activities described in the reprogramming. With this unilateral action, the historic and unprecedented comity that has existed between the Committee and the Department has been breached.”

Trump on Feb. 15 declared a national emergency at the southern border as part of a maneuver to gain billions of dollars in border wall funding that Congress had denied him. The move allows the president to claim broader authorities and order the Pentagon to move money from its accounts to build a border barrier.

The administration plans to pull a total of $6.1 billion from Pentagon accounts, $2.5 billion from counter-drug programs and $3.6 billion from military construction funds. 

As part of that, the Pentagon this week authorized $1 billion to be taken from its counter-drug funding to build 57 miles of 18-foot-high pedestrian fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Pentagon is able to move ahead with such a transfer since it is not required by law to obtain congressional approval.

But that breaks a decades-long precedent in which defense officials notify Congress in advance of such transfers, giving lawmakers the chance to approve or deny the request – something Pentagon officials have traditionally heeded.

That privilege – allowing the Pentagon to reprogram funding that has already been appropriated in order to quickly respond to threats and changes in the world – is now in jeopardy.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told Shanahan during a panel hearing on Tuesday that the Pentagon would likely lose the reprogramming authority if it moved forward with the funding transfer.

Smith on Tuesday also rejected the Pentagon's request to shift funding.

Norquist, who testified Wednesday before the House Budget Committee, said the decision to move the funds came from higher up in the administration.

“What we did is we built up the requirement and presented it in the way we were asked to present it,” he told lawmakers.

Shanahan at the Tuesday hearing acknowledged that officials “understand the significant downsides of losing what amounts to a privilege,” but added that they will move forward under White House direction.

He said Pentagon officials informed the administration of long-term risks to the department, but that they were given a “legal order from the commander-in-chief” and are executing that order.