T-Mobile executives have made themselves at home at the Trump International Hotel.
Several top executives at the company, including outspoken CEO John Legere, have booked rooms at the hotel at least 38 times since T-Mobile announced its merger with Sprint last April, according to The Washington Post. The Washington, DC-based luxury hotel is owned by President Donald Trump and his family.
A day after the merger was announced, the newspaper reported, "nine of T-Mobile's top executives -- including its chief operating officer, chief technology officer, chief strategy officer, chief financial officer and its outspoken celebrity chief executive, John Legere," were listed as VIP guests at the hotel.
The Post, which based its reporting on eyewitness accounts as well as hotel documents, says that T-Mobile executives, including Legere, returned to the Trump hotel repeatedly over the past several months. In total, T-Mobile executives were listed as guests at the Trump hotel at least 38 nights. With rooms at the hotel averaging around $300 per night, that's more than $11,000 spent at the president's hotel.
Since Trump's election in 2016, the hotel has been patronized by a wide range of companies, organizations and foreign governments with lobbying interests in Washington. The list includes Defense Department contractors, religious groups, foreign embassies, industry trade groups and companies like T-Mobile with business before government regulators.
Though there's nothing to stop any of these organizations, countries or companies from staying at or hosting parties or events at the hotel, the practice has raised concerns that these business relationships are meant to win favor with the Trump administration and influence public policy.
Opponents of the $26 billion merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, which the companies argue is necessary to stay competitive in the wireless industry, told the Post they believe T-Mobile's executives are trying to curry favor with Trump. Gene Kimmelman, a former chief counsel for the antitrust division at the Justice Department under President Barack Obama and now head of the government watchdog Public Knowledge, said he didn't think the bookings were a coincidence.
"In mergers, companies look for any potential advantage they can find," he told the newspaper. He added that it's unlikely the effort would hold much sway with career Justice Department officials. But he said officials appointed by the president might be persuaded.
Neither the Justice Department, the FCC nor the White House were available for comment.
On one of Legere's visits to the hotel, a Post reporter had an impromptu interview with the CEO, who denied he was seeking special treatment.
"It's become a place I feel very comfortable," Legere told the newspaper. Legere also said the hotel's location was convenient for merger-related meetings he was having with officials at the Department of Justice, which is across the street.
In a tweet Wednesday afternoon responding to the article, Legere downplayed the hotel bookings.
"Wow -- A lot of attention on where I choose to stay in DC," he wrote. "I've said many times that I respect this process and am working to get our merger done the right way. I trust regulators will make their decision based on the benefits it will bring to the US, not based on hotel choices."
T-Mobile's past merger attempts
T-Mobile has been down the Washington merger road before, and it hasn't gone well for the company. In 2011, the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission blocked the company's merger with AT&T, arguing that reducing the number of national rivals from four to three was anticompetitive and would hurt consumers.
In 2013 and 2014, when T-Mobile and Sprint executives first floated the idea of a merger between the No. 3 and No. 4 players, the Obama administration also strongly signaled that such a marriage wouldn't pass muster.
Then in April 2018, T-Mobile announced it would officially try again with Sprint. The biggest difference this time around is that there's a new administration in the White House. The deal requires approval from the Justice Department, which must determine whether it violates antitrust laws, and the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates wireless spectrum and must decide whether the deal is in the public interest.
Review of the merger at the FCC is on hold during the government shutdown.
The Post also pointed out in its reporting that the outspoken and flamboyant Legere has publicly bashed other Trump hotels.
In April 2015, two months before Trump announced his candidacy for president, Legere had a Twitter spat with Trump, which started over complaints Legere had while staying at the Trump hotel in New York City. Trump ended up calling T-Mobile's service "terrible." And Legere mocked the hotel for having everything labeled "Trump," according to news coverage. Legere's tweets from that exchange have been deleted.
The Post notes that "Three years later, on the day after the T-Mobile merger was announced, Legere was scheduled to arrive at the Trump hotel in Washington."
First published Jan. 16, 12:22 p.m. PT.
Update, 1:12 p.m.: Adds Legere's tweet in response to the Post report.
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