In this photo taken Dec. 21, 2106, the Trump International Hotel in Washington. 
Alex Brandon

Controversy surrounding Trump’s hotels grows even more serious

Updated

After the White House released the call summary last week, featuring a rough transcript of Donald Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the obvious scandal was the political pressure the Republican exerted. But this wasn’t the only relevant detail.

In the same conversation, Zelensky seemed to be carefully playing an amazing game, going out of his way to flatter Trump, touting his campaign skills, agreeing with everything the Republican said, and even using the meaningless “drain the swamp” catchphrase.

But that’s not all Zelensky said. “Actually, last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park, and I stayed at the Trump Tower,” the Ukrainian leader said.

For nearly three years, the Republican’s critics imagined hypothetical scenarios in which foreign officials would stay at a Trump-owned property, indirectly putting money in the American president’s pocket, and then casually work it into conversations as a way of currying favor with the ethically-challenged man in the Oval Office. But in this case, the hypothetical became real.

Zelensky, desperate for U.S. aid in the midst of Russian aggression, believed it would be in his country’s interests to both stay at Trump Tower and say so during a bilateral meeting.

It’s an inherently corrupt dynamic that the American president is content to overlook. It’s also a dynamic that others have been eager to exploit, as a new Politico report helps make clear.

House investigators are looking into an allegation that groups – including at least one foreign government – tried to ingratiate themselves to President Donald Trump by booking rooms at his hotels but never staying in them.

It’s a previously unreported part of a broader examination by the House Oversight Committee, included in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, into whether Trump broke the law by accepting money from U.S. or foreign governments at his properties…. The investigation began after the committee received information that two entities – a trade association and a foreign government – booked a large quantity of rooms but only used a fraction of them, according to a person familiar with the allegation who isn’t authorized to speak for the committee.

This was probably inevitable. The Republican invited the world to spend money at his businesses, creating a unique historical opportunity: those hoping to influence an American president could add to his profits.

The allegation raised in the Politico report is brutal, but it’s not at all surprising.

Rep. Ro Khanna, (D-Calif.), a member of the House Oversight Committee, said if Trump or his staff solicited the hotel reservations they could have broken the law. But even if they didn’t, it’s still a problem.

“If true, at minimum this suggests there is a culture of corruption that the administration has created,” Khanna said. “There’s a sense that to curry favor you have to engage in pay to play. That’s exactly what the American people hate about Washington.”

The investigation is ongoing. We don’t yet know the foreign government in question.