Last month the Washington Post reported that, immediately after the announcement of a massive proposed merger of their company with fellow telecom giant Sprint, T-Mobile executives suddenly found reason to spend a lot more time at Donald Trump’s D.C. hotel.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal asked the company in a letter to explain the apparent increase in the its use of the hotel , and T-Mobile’s response does not make the company look good. Before the merger announcement, only two top T-Mobile executives had ever stayed in the Trump hotel. After that announcement, though, the company’s expenditures at the hotel increased to nearly $200,000.
The roughly $195,000 paid for “meeting space, catering, business center services, audio/visual equipment rental [and] lodging” at Trump’s hotel near the White House, according to the letter from Anthony Russo, T-Mobile USA’s vice president of federal legislative affairs.
Just to make this perfectly clear, that means that immediately after announcing an enormous new mega-merger, a merger that would require the approval of the Trump administration, the company suddenly shifted its spending to put about $200,000 into Donald Trump’s corporate pockets. Donald Trump has not divested from his companies, as every previous modern president has done. Profits from those transactions go to him.
Which means T-Mobile made a conspicuous effort to pay the sitting president a fat check from its corporate coffers immediately after it became clear that Donald Trump would have substantial power to assist in, or block, the company’s top strategic move. Whether this was meant to be an overt act of corruption doesn’t matter. It objectively is corrupt.
These bizarre circumstances came about because Trump refused to divest from his companies, despite ethics officials’ emphatic warnings that he should do so; for those companies, industries, and foreign entities that require something from the Trump administration, there is now a direct way to pay the sitting president cash as method of ingratiating themselves to him. No more need to do the dance of paying lobbyist firms to hold lavish social events or to cut fat checks to a candidate’s campaign as method of gaining influence: With Trump, you can just pay him directly. You can, literally, put money into his wallet.
Because the Constitution explicitly forbids a president from receiving such obvious bribes from foreign governments, the Trump corporation near the beginning of Trump’s term begrudgingly condescended to donate any “profits” gained from bookings by foreign governments, thus ostensibly dodging that single narrow issue. There is no way of knowing if its accounting of “profits” is accurate, or what internal criteria are used to estimate those profits; we are to take it at its word.
For T-Mobile and other corporate entities, there is no such pretense. Those that seek favors from the administration book rooms and event spaces at Trump’s hotel at the hotel’s (inflated) prices; the resulting profits go to Donald Trump. There is no need to drag a suitcase full of cash to the White House when you can launder it through a for-profit business set up by the government’s top official only a few short blocks away.