Top Democratic senator requests probe into border wall contracts

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By Courtney Kube and Julia Ainsley  with NBC News Politics
Image: Border Wall On US Mexico Border Continues To Be Sticking Point Drivi
A construction crew installs new sections of the U.S.-Mexico border barrier replacing smaller fences on Jan. 11, 2019 as seen from Tijuana, Mexico.   -   Copyright  Mario Tama Getty Images file

The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee is requesting an investigation by the Government Accountability Office into recent decisions by the Army Corps of Engineers to award politically connected companies with contracts for border wall construction.

The request follows the awarding of a $400 million contract to Fisher Sand & Gravel, a company whose work has been touted by Trump, acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and others close to the Trump orbit.

NBC News first reported that the Inspector General for the Department of Defense was looking into the process that led to Fisher's win.

In his letter to the Government Accountability Office, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island asked the comptroller to investigate, among other questions, "to what extent, if any, did outside influence impact the contracting and selection criteria and award process?"

Reed also asked the comptroller to look into whether Defense Department and Army Corps of Engineers officials had any contact "direct or indirect" with "any other administration officials and bidders related to border wall contract awards."

A construction crew installs new sections of the U.S.-Mexico border barrier replacing smaller fences on Jan. 11, 2019 as seen from Tijuana, Mexico.
A construction crew installs new sections of the U.S.-Mexico border barrier replacing smaller fences on Jan. 11, 2019 as seen from Tijuana, Mexico.Mario Tama

The Government Accountability Office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Fisher Sand & Gravel became entangled in controversy after the Washington Post reported Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., held up the confirmation of a White House official in his demands to see border wall companies that had gone out to other companies. Cramer had repeatedly pushed the White House to consider Fisher, a company from his home state.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security told NBC News that Trump repeatedly pushed both publicly and privately for the Army Corps of Engineers to consider awarding Fisher with a contract for border wall construction. One official said Trump had to be reminded he could not just "pick a winner" and that many had doubts about Fisher's ability to handle the project.

In a statement provided to NBC News after news surfaced of the Inspector General investigation, a Fisher Sand & Gravel spokesperson said: "Fisher is looking forward to the opportunity to work with the Army Corps of Engineers on this important project, to build 31 miles of border fence near Yuma, Arizona. We are excited to show our high quality work and this project gives us an opportunity to demonstrate the caliber of work our team has delivered to our customers for six decades, while helping to secure our southern border."

Chip Unhruh, a spokesman for Reed said, "If President Trump personally and repeatedly pressured the Army Corps of Engineers to steer any contract to a politically-connected firm, it would be extremely inappropriate and possibly illegal."

"Senator Reed is asking GAO to take a non-partisan look at the awarding of all border-related construction to ensure all contracting and procurement laws were followed without any favoritism," he added.