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By Courtney Kube and Julia Ainsley
President Donald Trump has been briefed on a plan that would use the Army Corps of Engineers and a portion of $13.9 billion of Army Corps funding to build 315 miles of barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the briefing.
The money was set aside to fund projects all over the country including storm-damaged areas of Puerto Rico through fiscal year 2020, but the checks have not been written yet and, under an emergency declaration, the president could take the money from these civil works projects and use it to build the border wall, said officials familiar with the briefing and two congressional sources.
The plan could be implemented if Trump declares a national emergency in order to build the wall and would use more money and build more miles than the administration has requested from Congress. The president had requested $5.7 billion for a wall stretching 234 miles.
Under the proposal, the officials said, Trump could dip into the $2.4 billion allocated to projects in California, including flood prevention and protection projects along the Yuba River Basin and the Folsom Dam, as well as the $2.5 billion set aside for reconstruction projects in Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria.
Senior Defense Department officials discussed the proposal with Trump during his Thursday flight to the southern border, according to officials familiar with the briefing.
Trump was informed that the Army Corps could build 315 miles of border wall in about 18 months, according to officials familiar with the planning. The barrier would be a 30-foot bollard-style wall with a feature designed to prevent climbing, the officials said.
The Corps would focus first on the heavily trafficked border areas along the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, in San Diego and El Centro in California, as well as Yuma, Arizona.
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.
A source on Capitol Hill said if the president moves to pull money from Corps of Engineers civil works projects, Democrats in Congress are likely to submit legislation to block the money from being reallocated.
Asked about the proposal, a Democratic staffer warned that taking money from civil works projects in the U.S. will put American lives at risk.
“Hundreds of thousands of people will be at risk if there is a strong or wet winter in these flood areas and the protection projects haven’t been completed,” the staffer said.
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Congress raises questions Mueller left unanswered about Trump, Russia
WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report failed to address crucial questions about President Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia that the FBI may still be investigating, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday as he kicked off a hearing designed to spotlight those issues.
“Of all the questions that Mueller helped resolve, he left many critical questions unanswered — what happened to the counterintelligence investigation?,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said as he opened a hearing on counterintelligence issues. “Were there other forms of compromise, like money laundering, left out, uninvestigated or referred to other offices? Were individuals granted security clearances that shouldn’t have them? And are there individuals still operating in the administration that leave America vulnerable?”
Schiff said he is determined to get to the bottom of those questions, but he wasn’t likely to do so at Wednesday’s hearing, which featured testimony from two former FBI counterintelligence officials and a conservative commentator.
The former FBI officials, Stephanie Douglas and Robert Anderson, each ran the FBI’s National Security Division, a job that entails hunting for Russian spies in the United States. Neither of them is in a position to know what the FBI is doing now, but they sought to interpret the spare language of Volume One of special counsel Mueller’s report, the section that details more than 100 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.
Douglas, for example, said that when then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort handed polling data to a person the FBI said was linked to Russian intelligence, that amounted to the Russians “tasking” Manafort, a term spy hunters use to describe the actions of people under the influence of a spy service.
Manafort was charged with acting as an unregistered agent for Russian-backed Ukrainian politicians, but Mueller made no allegation against him or any other American of acting on Russia’s behalf in Russia’s operation to interfere in the 2016 election. To the contrary, Mueller did not find enough evidence to file criminal charges in any of the contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.
But Mueller’s report was a prosecutor’s brief, written under strict Justice Department regulations. It did not render a judgment on the propriety of a major political campaign flirting with a foreign adversary that was offering assistance. Nor did it assess whether U.S. national security was harmed, or whether Trump or anyone else was compromised by his dealings with Russia, including his effort to build a hotel tower in Moscow that would have required the approval of President Vladimir Putin.
“It may not be a crime to build a Trump Tower in Moscow,” Schiff said. “Or for [former Trump attorney] Michael Cohen to seek the Kremlin’s help to do so. It may not be a crime to try to enrich yourself with a foreign business deal even while running for president, or to lie about it to the American people. But it is deeply compromising.”
Schiff and the former FBI officials noted that the Mueller report says FBI agents who worked alongside the Mueller team sent counterintelligence reports back to headquarters, the contents of which are not included in the Mueller report.
The Republican witness, Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who writes for National Review, testified that members of the Trump campaign should have called the FBI when Russians approached them with offers of assistance.
But Republican lawmakers dismissed any notion that the Trump campaign behaved inappropriately. The real scandal, they said, was that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into an American political campaign.
Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the ranking Republican on the committee, called the Mueller report “a shoddy political hit piece.”
Schiff sees it much differently.
“Volume I of the report outlines a ‘sweeping and systematic’ effort by Russia to interfere in the 2016 election for the benefit of Donald Trump,” he said. “It establishes that the Trump campaign welcomed the Russian interference because it ‘expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian effort.’ It shows how the Trump campaign built the theft and dumping of the Russian stolen documents into its campaign messaging and strategy. And as the special counsel made clear, it sets out in great detail why the conduct in his report should concern every American.”
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