Trump Has Authority To Use Military To Build his Wall, House Armed Services chair Adam Smith Says

Washington state Democrat and House Armed Services chair Adam Smith said President Donald Trump does have the authority to declare a "national emergency" and use U.S. military troops to build his Mexican border wall.

Speaking on ABC's "This Week" Sunday, host George Stephanopoulos asked Smith whether Trump has the legal authority to "declare a national emergency" in order to get about $5.7 billion in U.S. taxpayer funding for his proposed border wall. Smith responded that while Trump can legally make good on his threat to use military troops to erect his southern border wall, he would effectively be wasting billions in Defense Department money and hurting national security.

Smith said Trump is "willing to shut down the government and stop paying Border Patrol agents" because of his gimmicky "campaign promise" he's already broken by forcing U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill instead of Mexico. Currently, 800,000 federal workers are not working as a result of Trump's shutdown of the federal government.

Stephanopoulos asked Smith, "Does President Trump have the ability, have the authority to declare a national emergency and have the military build his wall?"

"Well, unfortunately, the short answer is yes," Smith responded Sunday morning on ABC. "There is a provision in the law that says the president can declare an emergency. It's been done a number of times, but primarily it's been done to build facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. In this case, I think the president would be wide open to a court challenge saying, where is the emergency? You have to establish that in order to do this. Beyond that, this would be a terrible use of Department of Defense dollars."

But Smith, who was recently elected chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, warned he is considering holding hearings about Trump's politicization of the U.S. military.

"What we've seen is, I mean, he has campaign rallies when he's talking to troops. I don't think you should use the military to advance your agenda. Every other president before this when they worked with the military, when they talk to the troops, it's about national security and it's been about their service. But when President Trump talks [to the troops] it's about his campaign, it's about how bad the Democrats are. We need civilian control of the military and we need to separate those things."

Over Christmas, Trump's visit to military troops was widely derided by current and former ethics advisors from both parties after he signed "MAGA" campaign hats and made derogatory comments about Democrats -- and many Republicans -- refusing to support his $5 billion border wall project.

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Newly elected House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith said Trump is "willing to shut down the government and stop paying Border Patrol agents" because of his gimmicky "campaign promise." Screenshot: ABC 'This Week'

Smith continued, lamenting how the president is hypocritically attempting to get tough on national security as he attempts to take $20 billion out of the defense budget just to build his Mexican wall. Smith said that talks with Border Patrol leaders and others involved in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have told him the places along the Southern Border where a physical border wall is needed already have effective fencing.

"The president spends most of his time talking about how we're not spending enough on national security, now he wants to take $20 billion out of defense budget to build a wall," Smith said. "Which by the way, is not going to improve our border security. The president seems unaware of this, but we have actually already built a wall across much of the border, and all border security experts that I talk to say, where a wall makes sense, it's already been built. We should have a conversation about border security, but first, we should we open the government and pay our border patrol agents and the federal agents that are furloughed."

Smith also warned Trump that his House Armed Services hearings will feature probes into "Why did the president send 5,600 active dutry troops to the border? What was the purpose of it, [and] what is his policy in Afghanistan and Syria as he's now talking about pulling out."

Several recent polls show a majority of American taxpayers do not support financing Trump's border wall. A Quinnipiac poll released last month showed 54 percent of Americans of any political affiliation oppose the wall regardless of who is paying to finance the project.

On Saturday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told CNN the president has the authority to "defend the nation," although he admitted talks with House and Senate Democrats have "not made much progress."