By JAMES MACPHERSON, ELLIOT SPAGAT and BERNARD CONDON
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) – Tommy Fisher’s ambitious plan to win a border wall contract included what could be the next best thing to making a pitch directly to President Donald Trump himself – talking to him through his favorite cable TV channel, Fox News.
And it just may have worked.
Fisher’s North Dakota-based firm was awarded a $400 million contract this week to build 31 miles of wall in Arizona after he made numerous appearances on Fox repeating a Trumpian boast that he could build the wall, faster, better and cheaper than anyone else. It didn’t seem to matter that Fisher’s firm had little experience with such construction, a checkered environmental record and a previous proposal rejected.
“Hopefully the president will see this,” Fisher said in April on a Fox News morning show, among a slew of appearances on the channel that also included spots with Maria Bartiromo and Laura Ingraham. “He’s a guy who says he can cut through bureaucracy, and this is an emergency and that’s what needs to be done.”
Two administration officials familiar with the matter told The Associated Press earlier this year that Trump did indeed intervene on Fisher’s behalf, aggressively pushing his company’s bid to the heads of Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages wall contracts. The interference in federal contracting by a president concerned some overseeing the process but, the officials said, Trump insisted Fisher could get the wall up faster and cheaper than other bidders.
In his own appearance on Fox’s Sean Hannity show in April, Trump confirmed he was looking closely at Fisher’s company after it was recommended to him by North Dakota’s Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer.
Cramer, who received a $10,000 campaign donation from Fisher and invited him to Trump’s State of the Union address last year, said his constituent’s frequent appearances on conservative TV and radio “certainly helped him with the president.”
“”You know who else watches Fox News?” Cramer told The Washington Post earlier this year.
Fisher’s previous foray into Trump’s world came when he signed up to build a half-mile of barrier near the Rio Grande in Sunland Park, New Mexico, for a private venture supported in part by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. That effort is currently halted over concerns the barrier could worsen flooding.
On Tuesday, the Fisher Industries president downplayed any role his appeals to politics and personality played in getting the contract.
“I don’t think he’s advocating for me,” said Fisher, referring to Trump. “I think he’s advocating for someone who can perform and get the wall done, as high quality and as fast as possible.”
Whatever the case, it was a long-shot, surprise win – and a big one, the second-largest contract in the company’s nearly seven-decade history. Previously, the company has built highways, done excavating work and sold heavy equipment.
For designing and building 31 miles (50 kilometers) of wall in Yuma, Arizona, the company’s subsidiary – Fisher Sand and Gravel – will receive nearly $270 million of the $400 million contract, with the rest to be allocated later.
The company unsuccessfully sued the government in April when it was not awarded a similar contract.
The company has been cited hundreds of times by state and local officials for violating environmental regulations. Its initial proposal for a wall – it was one of six firms that built a prototype in 2017 – was rejected in part because of its concrete construction. The company’s winning bid is in line with the government’s preferred steel, see-through design.
Trump recently pledged to build 450 to 500 miles of wall by the end of next year. As of Nov. 1, he had built 78 miles, but the Fisher award is part of what is expected to be a rush of military-funded contracts. Trump declared a national emergency in February after Congress gave him far less money than he wanted for the wall, freeing up billions of dollars in Defense Department funds.
“We’re excited to finally get asked to the dance,” Fisher said. “We want to do what’s right in our hearts and for the country.”
AP writers Colleen Long in Washington and Nomaan Merchant in Houston contributed to this report.