US President Donald Trump today signed an executive action to begin planning for a border wall with Mexico and vowed that construction on the project would begin in months.
He also reiterated his vow that American taxpayers would be reimbursed by the Mexican government for the costs of the wall.
"As soon as we can physically do it," Trump said in an interview with ABC News, when asked when construction would begin. "I would say in months ... Certainly planning is starting immediately."
Trump's remarks came on a day in which he visited the Department of Homeland Security and signed two executive orders on immigration.
The orders aim to ramp up immigration enforcement by adding more detention centers and stripping federal grant money for cities that do not comply with federal immigration laws, aides said.
The construction of a wall along the southern U.S. border was Trump's chief campaign promise as he blamed illegal immigration for constricting the U.S. job market for Americans and adding to national security concerns.
During a briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer Spicer explained that Trump would sign two executive orders today related to immigration.
The first would be on border security and improvements, which would direct the buidling of a "large physical barrier" along the border.
"One way or another Mexico will pay for it," Spicer said.
"The President is working with Congress to figure out opportunities for Mexico to pay for the wall."
The second executive order would strip funding for so-called sanctuary cities, which don't arrest or detain immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.
Trump launches fraud investigation
Spicer said Trump plans to open an investigation into voter fraud "to understand where the problem exists, how deep it goes."
Spicer did not provide many details as to what the probe would look like, calling it at one point "a task force."
He suggested that the probe would focus on dead people who remained on the voter rolls and people registered in two or more states. In particular, he singled out "bigger states" where the Trump campaign "didn't compete" in the election.
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud occurring in November's election
President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that he plans to ask "for a major investigation" into claimed voter fraud following his belief that he lost the popular vote in November's election because millions of illegal votes were cast.
I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017
even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017
The White House has yet to provide details, but Trump said in back-to-back tweets that the investigation would cover "those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal" and "those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time)." Trump used all capitals -- VOTER FRAUD -- for emphasis.
"Depending on results," Trump tweeted, "we will strengthen up voting procedures!"
Trump continues to face scrutiny, along with some mockery, for insisting during a private reception with congressional leaders on Monday that there were between 3 million and 5 million ballots illegally cast in the election, allowing his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton to win the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes, although she lost the electoral vote to Trump. The president and his aides have yet to provide any verifiable facts to back up his claim, and analyses of the election found virtually no confirmed cases of voter fraud, let alone millions.
The National Association of Secretaries of State, which represents many of the country's state elections officials, said in a statement on Tuesday: "We are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump, but we are open to learning more about the administration's concerns."
Given that studies have shown that cases of in-person voter fraud are exceptionally rare, voting rights activists and others are worried that Trump's unfounded comments could lead to more voter ID laws that they say disenfranchise poor or minority voters, such as the one in North Carolina that was overturned by the Supreme Court last summer.
A Trump adviser told The Washington Post that Trump has been stewing about his popular vote count for weeks and insisting to friends that Clinton benefited from illegal votes in Democratic-leaning states like California. He has mentioned to several of them his interest in launching an investigation into possible voter fraud, said the adviser, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
The adviser went on to frame the tweets as a deeply personal move by Trump reflective of his thinking on the election, and did not have details on whether congressional leaders had been briefed on Trump's desire to have an investigation, although the adviser said Trump did tell them Monday about his broader concerns regarding the election count during a reception at the White House.
At the Tuesday briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended Trump's "long-standing belief" and pointed to a study that did not contain the conclusion he said it did. Spicer said there were no plans for an investigation, but left the option open.
"Maybe we will," Spicer said. "We'll see where we go from here, but right now the focus of the president has is on putting Americans back to work."
When pressed again by reports on the possibility of an investigation, Spicer seemed to downplay the prospect, saying "anything is possible."
Such an investigation would likely be led by the president's attorney general at the Justice Department. Trump's pick for the position, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., has asserted in the past that voter fraud exists, but he has distanced himself from Trump's claim of millions of fraudulent votes.
"I don't know what the president-elect meant or was thinking when he made that comment or what facts he may have had to justify his statement," Sessions said at his confirmation hearing earlier this month. "I would just say that every election needs to be managed closely and we need to ensure that there is integrity in it. And I do believe we regularly have fraudulent activities occur during election cycles."
Sessions, who has yet to be confirmed, said he had not talked to Trump "about that in any depth or particularly since the election." A spokeswoman for Sessions declined to comment beyond what the senator said at his confirmation hearing. Sessions has been questioned on his handling of a voter fraud case brought against black civil rights activists in Alabama in the 1980s, when he was a U.S. attorney.