Last week, in a blockbuster story, the Washington Post revealed that T-Mobile spent $195,000 on at least 38 nights’ worth of stays at President Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C., during the time that federal agencies were deciding whether to approve the telecom giant’s $26 billion merger with Sprint. The story prompted an outcry, with lawmakers demanding answers from T-Mobile, and former DOJ antitrust division chief Gene Kimmelman telling the Post, “I can’t believe this is a coincidence. In mergers, companies look for any potential advantage they can find.”
T-Mobile CEO John Legere’s response was taken with a few pounds of salt: The flamboyant executive explained that they became loyal guests at the Trump International Hotel because he appreciated its fine service and good security, and because it made him feel “comfortable.” That’s a complete 180 from his sentiments in 2015, when he tweeted his displeasure with Trump’s hotel in New York, to which the future president replied by slamming the telecom’s service. (As Fast Company has reported, the Trump International has become a nexus for concerns about conflicts of interest and potential corruption. Lobbyists, business executives, and foreign government officials have spent money at the hotel, which directly benefits the president since he failed to divest his business interests upon taking office.)
Today, at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, Legere insisted that his team stayed at the hotel the day after the merger was announced on April 28, 2018 (they were in town for meetings with the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission) because “I’m a longtime Trump Hotel stayer.” When Rep. Hank Johnson asked whether Legere understands the optics of the issue, Legere replied blithely, “The optics of me staying at Trump hotel hasn’t changed for 10 years.”
The lawmaker wasn’t impressed with his non-answer, saying that it “doesn’t pass the smell test with the American public.”
“It looks like you’re trying to purchase influence,” Johnson added.