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Sweet: Trump, the hotelier-in-chief

Donald Trump at press conference Monday, flanked by staffers working on his new hotel down the street from the White House. It's scheduled to open in September. | Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

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WASHINGTON — Was I a prop for an infomercial about a new Trump Hotel down the street from the White House or at a press conference Monday for GOP front-runner Donald Trump?

When it comes to Trump, there is no distinction that makes any difference.

Trump’s presser was bizarre in so many ways. Part “Apprentice.” Part president. Part pure promotion for his new hotel.

Earlier this month at a press conference in Florida, he used the occasion to tout an assortment of his Trump brands, including steaks that proved not to be from a company that Trump directly runs.

On Monday, Trump kicked it to the next promotional level.

The press conference was at the site of a new Trump International Hotel, an ultra high-end joint still under construction at the Old Post Office Building scheduled to open in September.

The Romanesque Revival structure, completed in 1899, sits on prime Pennsylvania Avenue real estate. One way or another, come inauguration day next January, Trump will have a place down the street from the Capitol.

The press conference was in raw space, a construction zone. Water bottles with the Trump label were on a table. Trump walked to a lectern; 19 people who were associated with the new hotel flanked him while he spoke. The chef was wearing a white jacket even though it would be months before a restaurant opens on the premises.

Usually the lectern at Trump political events is dressed with a campaign sign customized with the name of the city he is in. On Monday, Trump’s sign said Trump Hotels.

OPINION

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At the start of the presser, Trump talked about the hotel and how nice it will be. He mentioned the struts, the exterior, the granite and the jobs.

Trump took a question from a woman sitting behind me; her name, she told me later, was Alicia Watkins. She said she was an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, a 9/11 survivor who wanted to know if vets would be able to find jobs at his new hotel.

With that, Trump wanted to know if the woman, who was wearing a Trump press conference credential, was looking for a position.

“Do you mind if I do a job interview right now?” Trump said.

He called her to the lectern. She said she could do designs, wreathes, decorations.

“If we can make a good deal on the salary, she’s going to probably have a job,” Trump said of the complete stranger after an encounter of about 30 seconds.

She got in the event — at which pre-registration was required — representing herself as a member of the press Trump likes to say he despises.

“She just seemed like a good person to me. . . . I have instincts about people,” Trump said.

Later she told me she served in the Air Force; was a staff sergeant; was 38 years old; and she freelanced for an outlet, Troop Media. She said she was once homeless — and featured in Oprah Winfrey segments on homeless vets, which I did find on the Web. I don’t know what her whole story is except there is more to it. Perhaps she out-Trumped Trump.

Trump made a bit of news. He pledged to disclose the names of people he would nominate to the Supreme Court if he were president, a list of seven to 10 people.

As reporters were getting up to leave, Trump had second thoughts.

He called out, “Nobody asked about the hotel! . . . We have magnificent suites! . . . So if you follow me, I’ll give you’re a tour of the ballroom.”

And so we went. Not to promote the hotel. But to try to ask Trump more questions.

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