Donald Trump is at the center of some complex controversies, but once in a while, we're confronted with a story that's beautiful in its simplicity.
The Washington Post first reported a couple of months ago that after telecom giant T-Mobile announced a multi-billion-dollar merger deal with Sprint, it recognized the importance of the Trump administration's approval. So, quite a few of T-Mobile's top executives, including its CEO, started booking rooms at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
The timing lacked subtlety: on April 29, T-Mobile and Sprint announced their plans for a merger, and on April 30, T-Mobile's top executives started doing business with the president's hotel.
Maybe T-Mobile execs were frequent guests at the hotel before the merger announcement. Nope. The Washington Post reported today:
T-Mobile's patronage of President Trump's Washington hotel increased sharply after the announcement of its merger with its Sprint last April, with executives spending about $195,000 at the property since then, the company told congressional Democrats in a letter last month.Before news of the megadeal between rival companies broke on April 29, 2018, the company said, only two top officials from T-Mobile had ever stayed at Trump's hotel, with one overnight stay each in August 2017.But the day after the merger's announcement, nine of T-Mobile's top executives were scheduled to check in, The Washington Post reported in January. The Post, relying on internal Trump hotel documents, found that T-Mobile executives had reserved at least 52 nights at the hotel since the announcement.
This is the first full accounting of the company's spending at Trump's hotel during the relevant period, and as the Post added, it comes by way of T-Mobile's response to questions from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).
It's hard not to appreciate the straightforwardness of it all: a company didn't see the need to do business at the president's hotel; then it needed the president's backing; then it opened its wallet.
The trouble, of course, is that these circumstances should never exist.
Late last year, the Associated Press published a good report on the degree to which Trump’s presidency has “changed Washington,” and it touched on a provocative detail. Toward the end of the piece, the article noted that international leaders have learned that “some business at a Trump-owned hotel” can contribute to “a good relationship with the president.”
As we discussed at the time, it’s very easy to believe world leaders think this way, but it speaks to an inherently corrupt dynamic: officials shouldn’t be able to curry favor with an American president by doing business with his hotel. That's true of foreign dignitaries and corporate leaders.
To be sure, there’s no reason to believe the White House explicitly told officials at the telecom giant, “You’re more likely to get what you want if you stay at the president’s hotel.” The trouble is, there’s no need for corruption that brazen.
Instead, people hoping to influence the Trump administration make a subtle assumption: indirectly putting money in the president’s pocket through the Trump International Hotel might give them an edge they’d otherwise lack.
If there's a defense for such a dynamic, I can't think of it.