Shanahan:Border Wall Amount Not Decided02/17 10:15
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The acting secretary of defense said Saturday he has not
yet determined how much money he will redirect to President Donald Trump's
border wall project.
Pat Shanahan, who has been leading the Pentagon since Jim Mattis stepped
down Dec. 31, made the comment in an interview with reporters flying with him
from Germany to Washington.
Shanahan said he has a great deal of discretion in deciding how to use the
authorities granted to him by Trump's declaration Friday of a national
The former Boeing executive said he would be working out details starting
Sunday, emphasizing that his mission is to support the border security needs of
the Department of Homeland Security.
The White House said before Trump's announcement that the border project,
which is opposed by Democrats, would receive $3.6 billion that Congress
originally provided for military construction projects and $2.5 billion from
the Pentagon's 2019 drug interdiction program.
Shanahan, however, indicated that he has the discretion to provide less,
although he said the $3.6 billion figure is likely to prove correct. He
stressed that he has not yet made any decisions.
"You can trust the numbers," he said, referring to the $3.6 billion and $2.5
billion, "in terms of the potential." Ultimately, the amounts will be
determined by linking the available funds to specific border security projects,
he said, adding that those connections are not yet complete.
The law allowing a repurposing of military construction funds during a
national emergency says the secretary of defense is authorized "to determine
whether border barriers are necessary to support the use of the armed forces"
in an emergency.
Asked whether this means he can decide whether a wall is militarily
necessary, he said, "For us the determination will be made in coordination with
the Department of Homeland Security." He said later, "There have been no
determinations by me."
He also said the staff that supports the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the
Pentagon has been working out a "mission analysis" of border security needs,
including a recommendation on where barriers should be prioritized. This work
began some time ago in anticipation of a possible Trump emergency declaration.
"I will go in and review that analysis now that an emergency has been
declared," he said, adding later: "Very deliberately, we have not made any
decisions. We have identified the steps we would take to make those decisions.
... We don't want to fumble through this process" or take false steps.
A defense official said later that Shanahan is scheduled to be briefed in
coming days by the military service secretaries and his internal staff on
funding sources and likely project priorities. The official spoke to reporters
on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Shanahan said he was aware of the political hazards of diverting military
construction money from high-priority areas like military housing, suggesting
he would attempt to avoid that.
Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services
Committee, said before Trump's announcement that while he favors spending more
on border security, he opposes diverting "significant" sums from the Pentagon
"Doing so would have detrimental consequences for our troops as military
infrastructure was one of the accounts most deprived during the Obama-era
defense cuts," Thornberry said on Thursday. "And it would undercut one of the
most significant accomplishments of the last two years - beginning to repair
and rebuild our military. I hope that the president will pursue other options."
Shanahan was returning to Washington after a week of travel in Europe and
the Middle East. It was his first trip abroad as the acting secretary of
defense. He visited Afghanistan and Iraq, then attended a NATO defense
ministers meeting in Brussels before winding up his trip by meeting Friday and
Saturday with numerous officials during the annual Munich Security Conference.
He said he was pleased with his reception by the NATO allies, who have been
harshly criticized by Trump for not spending enough on defense.
"I felt very welcomed," he said, "and it was a very inclusive environment. I
was expecting something else." Asked what he had expected, he said, "I was
expecting them to be a bit more stand-offish" --- an apparent reference to the
shock some allies felt when Mattis resigned in protest of Trump's approach to
world affairs, including his denigration of allies.