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Trump hotel may be political capital of the nation’s capital

At a circular booth in the middle of the Trump International Hotel’s balcony restaurant, President Donald Trump dined on his steak — well-done, with ketchup — while chatting with British Brexit politician Nigel Farage.

A few days later, major Republican donors Doug Deason and Doug Manchester, in town for the president’s address to Congress, sipped coffee at the hotel with Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

After Trump’s speech, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin returned to his Washington residence — the hotel — and strode past the gigantic American flag in the soaring lobby. With his tiny terrier tucked under an arm, Mnuchin stepped into an elevator with reality TV star and hotel guest Dog the Bounty Hunter, who particularly enjoyed the Trump-stamped chocolates in his room.

It’s just another week at the new political capital of the nation’s capital.

The $200 million hotel inside the federally owned Old Post Office building has become the place to see, be seen, drink, network — even live — for the still-emerging Trump set. It’s a rich environment for lobbyists and anyone hoping to rub elbows with Trump-related politicos — despite a veil of ethics questions that hangs overhead.

“I’ve never come through this lobby and not seen someone I know,” says Deason, a Dallas-based fundraiser for Trump’s election campaign.

For Republican Party players, it’s the only place to stay.

“I can tell you this hotel will be the most successful hotel in Washington, D.C.,” says Manchester, adding that he would know because he has developed the second-largest Marriott and second-largest Hyatt in the world. Manchester says Trump’s hotel will attract people based on its location near the White House and Congress, the quality renovation and the management team.

Then there’s also the access.

Although Trump says he is not involved in the day-to-day operations of his businesses, he retains a financial interest in them. A stay at the hotel gives someone trying to win over Trump on a policy issue or political decision a potential chit.

That’s what concerns ethics lawyers who had wanted Trump to sell off his companies as previous presidents have done.

“President Trump is in effect inviting people and companies and countries to channel money to him through the hotel,” said Kathleen Clark, a former ethics lawyer for the District of Columbia and a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

She said the “pay to play” danger is even greater than it would be if people wanted to donate to a campaign to influence a politician’s thinking. Spending money at a Trump property “is about personally enriching Donald Trump, who happens to be the president of the United States.”

The White House strongly disputes there’s any ethical danger in Trump’s business arrangements.

Trump can see his hotel from the White House. When a Fox News interviewer mentioned that to him recently, Trump responded, “Isn’t that beautiful?” But while the interviewer pointed out that he can see the property from his desk in the Oval Office, Trump said, “I’m so focused on what I’m doing here that I don’t even think about it.”

Still, Trump couldn’t resist the short trip over there for dinner on his only weekend night out in Washington since becoming president.

A reporter for the website Independent Journal Review was tipped off about Trump’s dining plans and sat at a table near him. He noted the president’s dinner fare and companions, who also included daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Trump adviser Jared Kushner.

On other nights, the posh hotel is the kind of place where on a mid-February evening, you could bump into Trump television personality Katrina Pierson having cocktails with Lynne Patton, a former Trump Organization executive who’s now working at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Trump campaign and inauguration hands Tom Barrack, Boris Epshteyn, Nick Ayers and Rick Gates are among the many who have stayed there in recent weeks.

Rooms start at above $500 most nights, according to the hotel’s website and a receptionist. That’s up hundreds of dollars from when the hotel first opened, not long before Election Day. Patricia Tang, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, declined to answer questions about how business is going.

The hotel has become a staging area for big political events.

Eric and Donald Trump Jr. posed for dozens of selfies with admirers at the hotel that bears their name before attending their father’s White House ceremony in late January to announce Judge Neil Gorsuch as the president’s pick for the Supreme Court.

Deason ran into the Trumps and fellow Texas donor Gentry Beach while at a meeting at the hotel that day with Trump’s campaign adviser Rudy Giuliani. During inauguration week, when Trump himself repeatedly visited, the hotel was “literally the center of the universe,” Deason said.

Last Tuesday, as Trump gave his first address to Congress, lobbyists and politicos watched the four large flat-screens above the bar, two tuned to Fox news and two to CNN. In what hotel staff said was an effort to avoid some of the obvious politics of the place, the TVs were muted, so people followed along on their own devices.

As Trump wrapped up, applause rose through the lobby and bar. Mnuchin waved to admirers gathered in the bar as he strolled through after Trump’s speech.

Mnuchin is one of the New Yorkers working in Washington who call it home during the week. White House economic adviser Gary Cohn is another. Linda McMahon, who heads the Small Business Administration, also has been staying there.

Administration officials “have been personally paying a fair market rate” for their accommodations, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.

Even Trump’s closest friends pay to stay.

Billionaire Phil Ruffin, Trump’s partner for his Las Vegas residential tower, said he shelled out $18,000 per night while he was in town for the inauguration, which he said surprised him since he’d given $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee. Ruffin says he lightly complained about the high rate to the president.

“He said, ‘Well, I’m kind of out of it.’ So I didn’t get anywhere, didn’t get my discount,” Ruffin recalled.

Trump’s continued ownership of his hotel and other businesses has spawned lawsuits and ethics complaints, but so far no action on any of them. One accommodation Trump says he is making on the ethics front is to donate profits from foreign governments that spend money at his hotels.

Last week, Kuwait’s ambassador, Salem Al-Sabah, and his wife hosted a reception in the hotel’s presidential ballroom, in what was one of the first known instances of foreign money changing hands with the hotel division of the Trump Organization since he became president. A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization did not respond to questions about whether the money from the Kuwait Embassy has been or will be donated.

Mnuchin attended.

Hot dogs, cold cuts and red meat classified as carcinogens

Bacon, hot dogs and cold cuts are under fire: The World Health Organization threw its global weight behind years of experts’ warnings and declared Monday that processed meats raise the risk of colon and stomach cancer and that red meat is probably harmful, too.

Meat producers are angry, vegetarians are feeling vindicated, and cancer experts are welcoming the most comprehensive pronouncement yet on the relation between our modern meat-eating lifestyles and cancer.

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, analyzed decades of research and for the first time put processed meats in the same danger category as smoking or asbestos. That doesn’t mean salami is as bad as cigarettes, only that there’s a confirmed link to cancer. And even then, the risk is small.

The results aren’t that shocking in the U.S., where many parents fret over chemicals in cured meats and the American Cancer Society has long cautioned against eating too much steak and deli.

But the U.N. agency’s findings could shake up public health attitudes elsewhere, such as European countries where sausages are savored and smoked ham is a national delicacy.

And they could hurt the American meat industry, which is arguing vigorously against linking their products with cancer, contending that the disease involves a number of lifestyle and environmental factors.

While U.S. rates of colon cancer have been declining, it is the No. 2 cancer for women worldwide and No. 3 for men, according to the WHO.

A group of 22 scientists from the IARC evaluated more than 800 studies from several continents about meat and cancer. The studies looked at more than a dozen types of cancer in populations with diverse diets over the past 20 years.

Based on that analysis, the IARC classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans,” noting links in particular to colon cancer. It said red meat contains some important nutrients, but still labeled it “probably carcinogenic,” with links to colon, prostate and pancreatic cancers.

The agency made no specific dietary recommendations and said it did not have enough data to define how much processed meat is too dangerous. But it said the risk rises with the amount consumed.

An analysis of 10 of the studies suggested that a 50-gram portion of processed meat daily — or about 1.75 ounces — increases the risk of colorectal cancer over a lifetime by about 18 percent.

An ounce and three-quarters is roughly equivalent to a hot dog or a few slices of bologna, though it depends on how thinly it is sliced.

Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer in the U.S. is about 1 in 20, or 5 percent, according to the cancer society. By the WHO’s calculations, having a cold-cut sandwich every day would only raise that to around 6 percent.

Experts have long warned of the dangers of certain chemicals used to cure meat, such as nitrites and nitrates, which the body converts into cancer-causing compounds. It is also known that grilling or smoking meat can create suspected carcinogens.

“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” Dr. Kurt Straif of the IARC said in a statement. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”

The cancer agency noted research by the Global Burden of Disease Project suggesting that 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are linked to diets heavy in processed meat. That compared with 1 million deaths a year linked to smoking, 600,000 a year to alcohol consumption and 200,000 a year to air pollution.

Doctors in rich countries especially have long counseled against eating lots of red or processed meat — and not just because of the cancer danger but because of the heart risks from the saturated fat and sodium.

The WHO researchers defined processed meat as anything transformed to improve its flavor or preserve it, including sausages, beef jerky and anything smoked. They defined red meat to include beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat.

The report said grilling, pan-frying or other high-temperature methods of cooking red meat produce the highest amounts of chemicals suspected of causing cancer.

“This is an important step in helping individuals make healthier dietary choices to reduce their risk of colorectal cancer in particular,” said Susan Gapstur of the American Cancer Society, which has recommended limiting red and processed meat intake since 2002, and suggests choosing fish or poultry or cooking red meat at low temperatures.

The North American Meat Institute argued in a statement that “cancer is a complex disease not caused by single foods.”

Independent experts stressed that the WHO findings should be kept in perspective.

“Three cigarettes per day increases the risk of lung cancer sixfold,” or 500 percent, compared with the 18 percent from eating a couple slices of bologna a day, said Gunter Kuhnle, a food nutrition scientist at the University of Reading.

“This is still very relevant from a public health point of view, as there are more than 30,000 new cases per year” of colon cancer, he said. “But it should not be used for scaremongering.”