President Donald Trump has told his officials to take new measures in a redoubled effort to build his long-promised border wall before the 2020 election — and has assured that he will issue pardons if his aides have to break laws to get the project done, according to The Washington Post.
Current and former officials involved in the project told the newspaper that Trump has directed his aides to seize private land along the U.S.-Mexico border, ignore environmental regulations and quickly approve billions of dollars' worth of construction contracts.
Trump denied the report in a tweet Wednesday, calling the report "another totally Fake story in the Amazon Washington Post." Trump has frequently criticized the Post by linking its coverage to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who bought the newspaper in 2013.
"This was made up by the Washington Post only in order to demean and disparage - FAKE NEWS!" Trump tweeted.
An anonymous White House official, however, did tell the newspaper that Trump made those statements about pardons — but that he was just joking when he said such things.
Earlier, Trump claimed on Twitter that "The Wall is going up very fast, despite total Obstruction by Democrats in Congress, and elsewhere!"
Trump's promise to build a "big, beautiful wall" along America's southern border was a defining feature of his 2016 presidential campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton. He repeatedly claimed that Mexico would pay for the entire infrastructure project, and maintained that stance as president — even as he allowed the government to shut down in December after Democrats pushed back on a $5.7 billion proposal to fund it.
Those funds would have only built about 234 miles of wall, according to a Jan. 6 letter from the Office of Management and Budget — far less than Trump has said he wants to build.
At that time, Trump claimed the wall would be finished in two years. But experts have said that the project could take more than a decade to complete, and could cost tens of billions of dollars.
The president has asserted as recently as this month that the wall "is under major construction." But of the nearly 2,000-mile border, only about 60 miles of barrier have been built, and all as a "replacement" for aging structures that had already been built, the Post reported.
In a July tweet, Trump said it was "Fake News" to suggest no "new" wall had been built.
"When an old Wall at the Southern Border, that is crumbling and falling over, built in an important section to keep out problems, is replaced with a brand new 30 foot high steel and concrete Wall, the Media says no new Wall has been built," he complained. "Building lots of Wall!"
Trump has held regular meetings to try to speed up the project, and has waved off worries about possible legal violations, suggesting he would pardon officials who pushed forward regardless, according to the Post.
"Don't worry, I'll pardon you," he reportedly said in response to legal concerns about the use of eminent domain and contracting procedures.
CNN reported months earlier that Trump told Customs and Border Protection chief Kevin McAleenan that he would be pardoned if he were found to have broken immigration laws. McAleenan is scheduled to travel to El Salvador on Wednesday to discuss immigration issues, according to a Homeland Security Department press release.
The White House declined CNBC's request for comment on the Post's report. But deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley, in a statement to the newspaper, said Trump "promised to secure our border with sane, rational immigration policies to make American communities safer, and that's happening everywhere the wall is being built."
The reported criticisms, Gidley said, are "just more fabrications by people who hate the fact the status quo, that has crippled this country for decades, is finally changing as 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."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper reportedly approved the construction of 20 more miles of border wall Tuesday.