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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Saying 'it didn't sound too important' made for an important Trump moment

The president made the statement while describing "some" generals' plans for billions of Pentagon dollars, which he wants to divert to wall construction at the southern border.

President Donald Trump on Friday in the White

President Donald Trump on Friday in the White House Rose Garden. Photo Credit: AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Donald Trump tacitly admitted during his verbal ramble through the Rose Garden last week that his big military budget carries enough lard to free up funds for his dream wall.

Trump was talking about diverting billions of Pentagon dollars, some of it appropriated for military construction projects. Trump said he would use the funds an "emergency" caused when the Republican-run Senate and Democratic-led House denied him the full amount he demanded for wall construction.

Here's the full quote as the president spoke it:

"We had certain funds that are being used at the discretion of generals, at the discretion of the military. Some of them haven't been allocated yet. And some of the generals think that this is more important.

"I was speaking to a couple of them. They think this is far more important than what they were going to use it for. I said, 'What were you going to use it for?' And I won't go into details, but it didn't sound too important to me."

Stop for a moment and consider this. Items that "didn't sound too important" were marbled into his military budget. He says this at a moment when U.S. intervention in overseas wars is supposed to be waning and the federal deficit is expected to exceed $1 trillion next year. Many kinds of Pentagon waste have been decried for decades.

If it's unimportant, why is it there at all?

Since the president has proved himself an unreliable source, the "some generals" he evoked as gladly diverting funds for his border barriers might or might not exist. Assuming that they do, the next question becomes which Pentagon projects will be put off or sacrificed.

ABC News reported that the cuts could include family housing for service members in Wisconsin and South Korea, schools on military bases in Germany, and upgrades to Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Air Force bases in Alaska.

On CBS on Sunday, guest Sen. Lindsey Graham was asked about potential cuts that might include $62 million toward a middle school at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, among many others. 

"Let's just say for a moment that he took some money out of the military construction budget. I would say it is better for the middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border," Graham (R-S.C.) said. "We'll get them the school they need, but right now we've got a national emergency on our hands."

Going unremarked on during Trump's synthetic "emergency" is how Graham's caucus chief, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, declined to force a second federal-agency shutdown of the season.

It appears at least some of Trump's partisan allies preferred seeing the president kick the issue into court with his “emergency” order rather than face heat from another shutdown.

Now, fiscal conservatives could if they were so inclined warn Congress of how allocating funds in the first place for military projects the president thought "didn't sound too important" conjures old demons known as "fraud waste and abuse" and "reckless taxing and spending."

Trump's remark invites that sort of response, at least in theory.

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