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Pentagon Chief Shanahan: I have discretion on Trump’s border wall funds – not required to do anything

Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan speaks during a Missile Defense Review in the Pentagon Auditorium, Washington, D.C., Jan. 17, 2019. (Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr./Department of Defense)
February 18, 2019

The Pentagon has been directed to provide funds for the southern border wall project following President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration on Friday, but the acting defense secretary doesn’t know where the money will come from yet, and he also says he has discretion over where the funds will be pulled from.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said that no decisions have been made so far on the amount of money that will be reallocated to the border wall project, The Hill reported Sunday.

“We always anticipated that this would create a lot of attention and since moneys potentially could be redirected, you can imagine the concern this generates,” Shanahan told reporters on Saturday as they traveled overseas.

“Very deliberately, we have not made any decisions, we have identified the steps we would take to make those decisions,” he added.

The order will draw some $3.6 billion from the Pentagon’s military construction funds, and pull some $2.5 billion from military counternarcotics programs, as well as $600 million from an asset forfeiture program in the Treasury Department.

There’s no guarantee that Trump will get the $3.6 billion from the fund, however. Shanahan implied that the money won’t be coming from the military housing area of the fund.

“I think I have a lot of discretion,” he said. “I’m not required to do anything.”

Shanahan said he would make his considerations on Sunday.

“There’ve been no determinations by me, so that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow,” Shanahan said on Saturday. “But I just want to make a point of this: we are following the law, using the rules, and we’re not bending the rules.”

“We laid that out so we could do it quickly. We don’t want to fumble through this process,” he said.

On Friday, Trump declared a national emergency in order to divert $6.5 billion from other federal departments and direct it to southern border security.

The order came after Congress failed to pass a funding bill that included the $5.7 billion Trump has asked for in order to secure the southern border. Instead, Congress passed a bill providing just $1.375 billion for border security, which permitted fencing for 55 miles.

The move was seen as a bipartisan compromise, but Trump declared he was “extremely unhappy” with the proposal.

The funds will now be redirected from the Department of Defense and the U.S. Treasury. The Defense Department alone has $21 billion total unspent funds intended for military construction, the Washington Times has reported.

The money was originally designated for specific construction projects, but contracts haven’t been signed to get those projects underway.