CNN anchor Jake Tapper repeatedly confronted acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf on Sunday over the DHS official’s past support of the “We Build the Wall” fundraising campaign, which federal prosecutors now allege was a scam to personally enrich former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon and campaign founder Brian Kolfage.
Last week, Bannon, Kolfage, and two other associates were arrested and indicted on fraud charges, with prosecutors saying they “defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall.”
Bannon is accused of skimming over $1 million to pay personal expenses and secretly pay Kolfage, while Kolfage allegedly took over $350,000 from the campaign, in part to purchase a boat called Warfighter. Bannon has pleaded not guilty, claiming the charges are a “political hit job.”
Interviewing Wolf on CNN’s State of the Union, Tapper brought up the acting DHS chief’s praise of the private border wall fundraiser last year that featured Wolf calling the campaign a “game-changer” that he “welcome[d]” as “part of the solution.”
“You were lending your credibility and the credibility of the Department of Homeland Security to what prosecutors say is a scam,” Tapper noted. “Do you regret that? Are you embarrassed by it?”
“No,” Wolf replied. “Again, I think you hit it on the head, which is I said, and I’ll continue to say, I welcome all that want to be part of the solution. I did not specifically endorse this particular organization or what they are doing.”
The CNN anchor pointed out that Wolf made an unannounced visit to El Paso to observe the project, prompting Wolf to claim it was merely part of his “first trip” to the border” as acting secretary, adding that he was just trying “to get a sense of everything” going on in the area.
“I wanted to understand how a private organization, if they were going to build this on their own using their own funding, how it integrated with what CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] was doing on the border,” he said. “I did not endorse any particular one group or another.”
Tapper then wondered aloud whether Wolf welcomed the “support of scam artists who want to be part of the solution,” leading Wolf to insist that he “absolutely” does not.
The State of the Union host then noted that the fundraising campaign advertised Wolf’s support of the project in the past. Wolf, for his part, asserted that DHS had previously asked We Build the Wall to take down that press release, as it was inaccurate.
“Do you regret going to visit this part—I mean, there were questions raised about this organization for months and months and months,” Tapper asked. “I mean, shouldn’t somebody at DHS have vetted this group before sending you there?”
Wolf insisted that he had no idea that there was potential fraud tied to the group, and that his meeting with them was just a small part of a longer visit to the border.
“I wanted to go there to understand what my men and women are seeing, any concerns that they had there, and then moved on,” he concluded. “Again, about a ten-minute visit, and it’s absolutely appropriate for me to understand what the men and women of the Border Patrol are doing not only with our infrastructure but with other donated infrastructure and other efforts along that southwest border.”