Republicans on the House antitrust panel laughed off Democrats’ questions over T-Mobile’s spending at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. immediately after the company announced a mega-merger with Sprint.
“I’m kind of embarrassed,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said about Democrats’ questions to T-Mobile CEO John Legere regarding the corporation’s payments that President Donald Trump will directly profit from.
“Where Mr. Legere and T-Mobile employees stay when they come to Washington really has no relationship whatsoever to whether or not this proposed merger is in the public interest or not,” Sensenbrenner added.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) elicited laughs from his Republican colleagues after complaining that Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) only spent 50 seconds of her time asking about the substance of the merger “because we have to go into what kind of hotel towels you like.”
One day after the merger announcement, nine T-Mobile executives checked in to Trump’s D.C. hotel, The Washington Post reported in January. The company ultimately spent $195,000 on 38 nights at the hotel as T-Mobile executives descended on Washington to meet with regulators about the proposed merger.
Previously, the company executives had only spent two nights at the president’s hotel. Legere had previously said in 2015 that he would not stay at a Trump hotel after he disapproved of the service.
Trump is the first president in the modern era to refuse to divest from his business holdings while in office. As the owner of multiple commercial properties, this has created a situation in which corporations, lobbyists and foreign governments can directly pay the president as they seek his support for a variety of policies.
The Trump hotel in D.C., which opened in 2016, is one of the key hotspots for this type of influence to take place. Visitors seeking action from the Trump administration routinely post photos on social media showing how happy they are to spend money at the president’s property ― as Legere and T-Mobile executives did.
Legere told a congressional committee that the $195,000 his company spent at the hotel was based on his decade-long preference for Trump hotels.
“I made the decision. I’m a longtime Trump hotel stayer way before this transaction,” Legere said in response to questions from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.).
He added that he was “100% sure that this deal will be judged by the [Department of Justice] and [Federal Communications Commission] on its merits.”
The proposed merger is currently under review by the DOJ and FCC. These are ostensibly independent agencies free of influence from the White House. Trump, however, is reported to have ordered both Gary Cohn, the former head of the National Economic Council, and John Kelly, his former chief of staff, to tell DOJ antitrust lawyers to sue to block the merger between AT&T and Time Warner in 2017, according to the New Yorker. The Department of Justice did sue and lost in court. Democrats have requested documents to determine if there was any improper influence.
Trump won the 2016 election in part by arguing that his opponent Hillary Clinton provided favors for donors to the Clinton Foundation while serving as secretary of state. Congressional Republicans held hearings in December 2018 into whether Clinton interfered in decisions by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to allow a Russian company to purchase a corporation that owned uranium mines in the U.S. and had been previously owned by a major Clinton Foundation donor. No evidence of improper influence or wrongdoing was ever uncovered.