Trump only 'joking' about pardons if laws broken in pursuit of border wall: WH official

PHOTO: US Border Patrol along the border fence in Lukeville, Arizona, August 19, 2019. This two mile portion of the fence will be torn down starting this week and replaced by 30 foot tall steel Bollard wall.PlayChristopher Brown/ZUMAPRESS.com via Newscom
WATCH News headlines today: Nov. 21, 2019

After a Washington Post report that President Donald Trump has suggested to federal officials that he would pardon them if they broke the law and ignored regulations in order to fast-track construction of his promised southern border wall before the 2020 election, a senior White House official insisted on Wednesday that the president was only "joking."

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The Washington Post reported that the president has directed aides to seize private land and disregard environmental rules if needed in order to complete hundreds of miles worth of wall by Election Day in November 2020.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump arrives at the White House in Washington, as he returns from Louisville, Ky., Aug. 21, 2019. Carolyn Kaster/AP, FILE
President Donald Trump arrives at the White House in Washington, as he returns from Louisville, Ky., Aug. 21, 2019.

Trump on Wednesday afternoon tweeted that The Washington Post's article was a "totally Fake story" and said it was "made up" that "if my Aides broke the law to build the Wall... I would give the a Pardon."

Chants of "finish the wall!" are common at the president's campaign rallies, with Trump promising his supporters that over 400 miles of wall will be complete by the end of 2020. As of the end of July, 54 miles worth of wall has been renovated under the president, but the latest information provided shows there has yet to be any new construction in areas where a barrier did not previously exist.

"We're going to have over 400 miles of wall built, much of it is already started, by the end of next year, and we'll conclude it pretty shortly thereafter. We'll have the whole thing sealed up and it will be a lot easier," the president told a rally in Florida on May 8.

PHOTO: Two photos released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows a side-by-side comparison view of the existing vehicle barrier, left, a new wall construction mock-up, right, at the U.S.-Mexico border near Santa Teresa, N.M., April 7, 2018. Mani Albrecht/CBP
Two photos released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows a side-by-side comparison view of the existing vehicle barrier, left, a new wall construction mock-up, right, at the U.S.-Mexico border near Santa Teresa, N.M., April 7, 2018.

In constructing the new wall, officials say it remains a priority to the president that the new structure be painted a flat black. Beyond the aesthetic of a towering black fence, officials say the coating serves a practical deterrent, as the coating makes the surface hot to touch in the desert heat and makes it hard to climb.

White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley defended the president's tough approach to the border, saying in a statement "Donald Trump promised to secure our border with sane, rational immigration policies to make American communities safer, and that's happening everywhere the wall is being built."

Gidley pushed back against internal criticisms, disregarding them as "just more fabrications by people who hate the fact the status quo, that has crippled this country for decades, is finally changing as President Trump is moving quicker than anyone in history to build the wall, secure the border and enact the very immigration policies the American people voted for."

The Washington Post report comes as Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier this week approved an additional 20 miles of border wall be built with $2.5 billion in previously reprogrammed into the Pentagon's counter-drug account.

Former acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan previously authorized 135 miles of wall to be built along the U.S.-Mexico border, but the cost of construction for those sections of wall was less than anticipated, freeing up funding for these additional 20 miles, the official said.