One of the negative aspects of President Trump’s tenure at the White House is that despite all his inveighing against The Swamp, people in his orbit and his ongoing ties to the Trump Organization seem to be leading the very worst swamp creatures to engage in ongoing bad behavior to try to get things done in D.C.
In some cases, these are things that really don’t seem like they should be hugely controversial.
Yet, they end up becoming controversial because of the bad behavior of people in The Swamp, including (maybe even especially) a bunch of Trump associates, and because people who aren’t Trumpers and have been associated with the #nevertrump movement or key #nevertrumpers seem to feel they can’t get business done in the Trump era unless they simply do things that look like buying the President and his family off.
In many cases, we’re talking about foreign governments the President isn’t inherently likely to view favorably (see the list of attendees at this Trump hotel event mentioned here)—and more specifically, the establishment GOP lobbyists and public affairs experts who represent them in D.C.
But now it appears we’re also talking about the potential T-Mobile-Sprint merger, which really didn’t seem that controversial when first announced but is now causing a bunch of people on both sides of the aisle to look again because of some big and avoidable missteps on T-Mobile’s part.
You might have seen this Washington Post story the other day about how T-Mobile followed up its announcement of the mega-merger—which requires approval from the Trump administration—with a bunch of VIP bookings for T-Mobile executives at the Trump International in D.C.
According to the Post, “[b]y mid-June, seven weeks after the announcement of the merger, hotel records indicated that one T-Mobile executive was making his 10th visit to the hotel.”
Chief Executive John Legere “appears to have made at least four visits to the Trump hotel, walking the lobby in his T-Mobile gear.”
On one occasion, Legere straight up told a Post reporter that he was staying there specifically during meetings at the DOJ—undoubtedly about the merger, since DOJ handles antitrust matters—and that the hotel was “convenient” for that.
Legere’s choice of the Trump hotel looks particularly suspicious because in past, he’s clashed with Trump. According to the Post, Trump hasn’t exactly been a fan of T-Mobile’s service, and Legere has mocked Trump’s “everything Trump” branding on Twitter (though the tweets are now gone, conveniently enough).
In total, apparently we’re talking 38 nights of hotel stays at a minimum of $300 a night but probably far more, a decent chunk of change even when you take out the proportion of that price that would go to actual running of the hotel and not constitute profit. This is the kind of thing that is the basis for emoluments clause lawsuits against the President, which have been more successful legally than a lot of people expected. T-Mobile is obviously not a foreign government, but its behavior ties right in with an unhelpful storyline related to alleged backdoor bribery and ill-gotten gains that has been an ongoing headache for the Trump administration.
Legere seems to have spotted that T-Mobile’s patronage of the Trump International was a burgeoning problem that could make him look like he was trying to buy Trump off, too. Apparently, after being busted staying at the Trump, he moved to the Four Seasons in Georgetown and started tweeting about its bar.
Another data point in this story is T-Mobile’s reported hiring of Corey Lewandowski, who has turned himself into a cash cow in Washington, D.C., because of his perceived influence with and closeness to the President.
Politico exposed last year that T-Mobile had hired Lewandowski to help get the merger through.
Also helping with the effort is Hamilton Place Strategies’ Kevin Madden, a former top Mitt Romney aide regarded as very close to the freshman Utah senator and Trump antagonist. Madden is occasionally described by fellow political consultants as the “sixth Romney son” because of his close resemblance of Romney and his relationship with him.
This T-Mobile hiring and spending spree comes after a wave of failures of the company to win approval for several mergers, and enhanced scrutiny of its privacy practices.
T-Mobile is the third-biggest American cell carrier and has repeatedly sought a merger to get bigger. Critics of “Big Tech” on both sides of the aisle have privately voiced skepticism about T-Mobile’s approach, arguing that while a merger would allow it to compete better, it could also easily lead to increased fees for consumers, both its own and of other companies due to diminished competition in the wireless space.
Twice during the Obama years, T-Mobile tried to merge with rival companies. The first was AT&T. The second was Sprint. Now it’s trying to merge with Sprint again.
Failures to safeguard consumers’ location data have emerged as a major controversy afflicting Google, a foe of Trump allies including newly-elected Sens. Josh Hawley and Marsha Blackburn.
Now, T-Mobile among other wireless companies appears to have wound up in a similar scandal—something that could alienate other Republican allies of the President and further inflame already skeptical Democrats who have laid down a marker against more big mergers, in favor of antitrust enforcement, are also increasingly hawkish on consumer privacy—and of course hate all perceived buying and selling of influence via Trump International bookings.
It will be up to the DOJ to take a view on the merger and either approve or block it.
But all of these events make it much harder for them to wave it through without such a decision looking bought-and-paid for. And of course, DOJ is not without scrutiny and criticism as it stands, meaning there may be an incentive to block a proposed T-Mobile merger for the third time in recent years, if there is any legal case for doing so and any desire to avoid hassle factor.
Ultimately, that was perceived to be a problem with the proposed Sinclair merger early in Trump’s presidency, and that merger ultimately fell apart once put under the spotlight. In some respects, stories surrounding T-Mobile and its approach here are worse than those pertinent to Sinclair—though Eric Trump, as manager of his father’s business empire features in both.
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