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Trump suggested a moat filled with alligators or snakes at the border wall — and that’s only one of the revelations in a new Times article

President Trump. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

With the Trump-Ukraine scandal simmering and generating headlines every few hours, the story posted by The New York Times Tuesday on President Trump’s border wall push may not be getting as much attention as it might have.

The article focuses mainly on a brief slice of time in March. But it adds stunning new details to a string of disturbing portrayals of the controversial, divisive president that have appeared in books and newspaper accounts since he took office in January 2017.

In a White House appearance Tuesday afternoon, he denied details of the story about his bizarre suggestions for fortifying the border wall, saying he “never said it, never thought of it.”


Misstating where the story appeared, he said, “It’s fake because almost everything The Washington Post does is fake. ... It was a total lie. It was corrupt reporting.”

Here are nine things you should not miss from the story by reporters Michael D. Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, which was based on interviews with more than a dozen White House and administration officials. The Times article was adapted from their book, “Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration,” to be published by Simon & Schuster next week.

■ Trump has talked privately often about fortifying his border wall with a water-filled trench that would contain snakes or alligators. His aides went so far as to seek a cost estimate. Trump also wanted the wall electrified and to have spikes placed on top.

■Trump, who had publicly suggested soldiers shoot migrants who throw rocks, suggested that soldiers shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. Aides told him that was not allowed, either.

■In an Oval Office meeting in March, Trump ordered aides to completely shut down the entire 2,000-mile border by noon the next day. His team, concerned about the impact on trade and the US economy, tried desperately to placate him as he shouted, “You are making me look like an idiot!” with a profanity added in.


■Days later, Trump suggested instead stopping migrants from crossing the border completely, with no exceptions. He told Kevin McAleenan, then the Customs and Border Protection chief (who is now Homeland Security secretary), on a trip to California that if McAleenan did it and got into any trouble, Trump would pardon him.

■On the same California trip, Trump worked a room full of Border Patrol agents and told them to turn away all migrants at the border. After the president left the room, McAleenan told the agents to ignore the president, that they did not have the authority to stop processing migrants.

■Former Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen regularly found herself telling Trump the reasons he couldn’t have what he wanted. Nielsen told Trump the government needed permission from landowners after he ordered wall construction accelerated. Trump told her to seize the land and let them sue.

■In a briefing on a different topic, the need for new legal authority to down drones, Trump told Nielsen, “Kirstjen, you didn’t hear me the first time, honey,” according to two people familiar with the conversation. “Shoot ’em down. Sweetheart, just shoot ’em out of the sky, O.K.?”

■After the March Oval Office meeting, Nielsen scrambled to come up with a six-point plan to control the border, but when she presented it to Trump, he dismissed it and told her what he really needed was a cement wall. She told him she didn’t think it was possible, even if it would work. The designs for steel barriers had been finalized and contracts had been signed. He responded it was time for her to leave the administration.


■ Trump ultimately backed off his demands. However, advised by Stephen Miller who believed senior officials were thwarting Trump, the president began to purge Nielsen and others. The people who tried to restrain Trump have largely been replaced by a team that embraces Miller’s policies, Shear and Davis reported.