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The Newsletter Reporter Who Covered The Trump Hotel Full Time Is Finally Moving On

Zach Everson is retiring his 1100 Pennsylvania newsletter for a Forbes job covering money in politics.

Journalist Zach Everson captured this photo of Donald Trump at the opening of his DC hotel in 2016.

Former travel writer Zach Everson made a full time job out of following the ins and outs and who’s who of DC’s Trump hotel with his newsletter, 1100 Pennsylvania, over the past few years. Now, with Donald Trump out of office and the hotel’s lease up for sale again, Everson is moving on to a new beat. He recently joined Forbes, where he’ll be investigating money in politics (and starting a new newsletter called Checks & Imbalances). Few people have followed the Republican haven as closely as Everson, so we asked him about his best ‘spotted,’ that time he had dinner next to Trump, and what he thinks the future of the hotel will hold.

How did you end up covering the Trump hotel full-time in the first place?

I was a travel writer for over a decade and I had the assignment to cover the opening for Fox Newsís website in the travel section. It was clearly different than any other hotel function Iíd been to. None of them had a presidential candidate show up with his entourage and spend the time belittling his opponent. It just hit me that this was going to be a very different hotel than any other hotel Iíd been to, and it was going to be the travel story in DC. [Later, while working on a story about the hotel for Conde Nast Traveler], I was just kind of looking online at pictures to see who was at the Trump hotel. If you had concerns that people who would want to influence the President were spending money at his business, you could see those concerns right before your eyes on Instagram. So I decided to stay with it.†

How often did you actually hang out at the hotel?

Not often. They certainly knew who I was. Most of what I did was on social media. I would go down there often if I had an inkling something was going to happen. For example, there was a tip that the Romanian prime minister was there that led me to go down twice in one weekend. I did stay there for the Conde Nast Traveler piece. I spent a weekend there. Thatís also my one and only time speaking to Donald Trump.

Tell me more about that!

This was early on in his presidency, April of 2017. I happened to book that weekend because it was the Science March. I went and got a massageóagain, Conde Nast paid for all this. I went up to my room, and as I came down the elevator, there were very clearly Secret Service agents standing there. The manager was pacing about, and there were all sorts of last minute preparations being made. You could see the bannister being polished. It was very clear to me that that was not done for me. I went to dinner at BLT Prime, and I was given a seat on the rail, which we found out later is where they tried to put their better-looking people or more influential people. I guess being a travel writer got me the seat, because it definitely wasnít power or looks.

So they knew you were there as a travel writer?

They absolutely knew I was there. I didnít tell them. I just booked it under my name and when I showed up to check in, the manager of the hotel and the manager of the restaurant both came down and introduced themselves to me and give me their cards. It was very apparent they knew what I did. I talked to [hotel managing director] Mickael Damelincourt later about it, and he said that they have an attachť department that researches who their guests are going to be.

Anyway, I had this great seat, and sure enough Iím into my appetizer, and the President walks in and gets a standing ovation. At this point Iím like, ĎAlright, I have the lede to my article.í Nobody left the restaurant the entire time he was there. Thatís what I was there for, and it seemed like thatís what a lot of other people were paying, at least in part, for. I imagine servers there probably make less money when Trumpís there. I tried to be a good customer. I ordered more stuff than I really wanted.

As Trump left, people were yelling questions. There were all sorts of questions I could have asked him, but I just went with a simple, ĎWhat did you have for dinner tonight, sir?,í which was obviously steak. I just wanted to see if you could talk to the President by staying in his hotel, and I was able to do that and it wasnít difficult at all. Right place, right time, and loud voice.

You said the staff knew who you were. How did they treat you? I take it you werenít banned or anything like that.

Iíve never been asked to leave. Iíve never been banned. Thereís never been any problem. I know theyíre watching me. I went in there once undercover with Inside Edition and they shot video of one of the bartenders immediately coming right up to me and greeting me. But they were always friendly. I also never approached a guestóthat was one thing they didnít care for.

When you did go to the hotel, what would you do? What would you be ordering? What would you be looking for?

The first thing was just: whoís there? There were so many times Iíd go down there for one reason, and Iíd see something totally different, like John Legere, the [now former] CEO of T-Mobile. Right after they announced the merger [with Sprint], he was down there talking to Corey Lewandowski. I would usually come in and walk around and grab a seat some place if I saw something that was worth looking at. Otherwise Iíd just stand against the bar and look outwards. They had a Tempranillo that was pretty solid at about $16. I think they also had Four Roses bourbon at a pretty decent price point. The octopus was pretty good. The tartare was good. I had the burger once, it was delicious, but $30 for a burger, it better be delicious.

Who would you say is your best Trump hotel Ďspottedí?

Clearly Atiku Abubakar. I didnít know him at the time. All of a sudden, this group walks in and theyíre getting a very formal welcome.† A lot of them have cell phones out, and theyíre capturing video of whatís going on. [Turns out] that guy is running for president of Nigeria and the election is in 30 days, and yet somehow the Trump hotel in DC is a campaign stop. As I found out later, Atiku Abubakar had been the vice president of Nigeria, and at one point, he was also involved in [an international bribery] scandal here in the United States with a congressman named William Jefferson of Louisiana, who was known for having [$10,000 stacks of hundred-dollar bills] in his freezer. Reportedly, the State Department had barred Abubakar from entering the country for years. This was becoming an issue in the election in Nigeria. So what does he do? He books a trip to the Trump hotel. The pictures were all over the internet. I ended up picking up a ton of Nigerian followers on Twitter.

What is the weirdest thing youíve observed at the hotel?

A lot of it was just the MAGA world, the whole sort of subculture that came up around Trump. They had their own celebrities. There was that designer, Andre Soriano, who made the MAGA dress. And I think in fashion, he is considered pretty much a nothing, but he was the MAGA fashion designer and was accorded all of the privileges that go along with that. People were just thrilled to see him there.

Who would you say were the most regular big names?

ĎBigí is going to do a lot of work here. Eric Bolling, formerly of Fox News, was there all the time. He was like the norm of the hotel. He had his regular spots. He would sit there and he clearly wanted to be seen. He liked to be glad-handing people out there. Matt Gaetz was certainly a regular. I was down there once with a friend, and it was one of the rare times that Matt Gaetz was in Trumpís doghouse, he had just voted against him on a bill. I think it had to do with war powers. He and Lewandowski grabbed a table right at the bar, right in the middle, and it was almost like a rope line, people coming up for picture after picture after picture with Gaetz.

Youíve arguably followed the Trump hotel on social media closer than anyone. What would be your biggest takeaways?

It was just picture after picture after picture of junior Capitol Hill staffers or travelers from Iowa: ĎOh, just had a wonderful time with Rudy as we were catching up.í Itís like, you didnít. You went up and said, ĎCan I get a picture with you, Mayor Giuliani?í It was just so puffed up. If thereís just one image that sears itself into my mind, itís just a young white person sitting in the lobby of the Trump hotel with a glass of Champagne, staring off into middle distance, and having some sort of insipid saying about Ďjust having a little me timeí or Ďthinking about how we can make America great again.í That is just the archetypal post.

What would you say was your biggest Trump hotel scoop?

It wasnít specific to the hotel, but it was probably that the Trump Org was selling soap with the White House on it with ĎTrump hotelí over it. There was one time Trump was there, but in between two planned meetings, he stopped in with a group of evangelicals who prayed and put hands on him. It was with [televangelist] Paula White. That wasnít even on his schedule. If somebody hadnít posted it on social media and I hadnít seen it, you would never have known that Donald Trump was there. That was the only time I saw him during his presidency standing behind a Trump-branded podium. There wasnít even a presidential seal on there.

You kept a tally of how often certain people went to the hotel?

Oh yeah. Trump had 37 confirmed members of his Cabinet throughout his presidency. We have photos of 28 of them at the hotel. That is astounding. Sixty-five Republicans served in the Senate during Trumpís tenure, 35 of them were either seen at the hotel or spent campaign funds there. And representatives from 33 different governments have been spotted there.

Whatís your sense of what the biggest story that connected to the hotel was over these past four years?

The Ukraine scandal. So many of those meetings took place there. I was told Rudy Giuliani was hanging with these two guys who you should probably pay attention to. So I had my eye out. I had already looked for pictures of Rudy with Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas before their names came up. It turns out Iíd actually already published one. I didnít know it at the time, but I published a photo of Parnas standing there with Trump on the stage at a fundraiser in the ballroom a year before Parnas was on anybodyís map.

Whatís the scene at the hotel been like since Biden took office?

Itís empty. I would go days without seeing any new pictures posted on Instagram. The pandemic doesnít help, but there was just nothing going on there. I havenít been there [since the start of the pandemic], but accounts from people who have been there bore that out. Since Trumpís no longer president, youíre no longer going to go there to see Kevin McCarthy types. Theyíre not out there either, not as often. The telltale sign will be looking at campaign finance spending over the next year and seeing how many events are there. Jim Jordan dropped $20,000 in campaign funds at the Trump hotel during Trumpís presidency. Whatís he going to spend there now?

What do you see as the future of the hotel? It sounds like itís back on the market again.

Welcome to the Waldorf Astoria. Even before Trump was elected president, the money in that hotel just didnít make sense. The break-even point is just too high for what they need to recoup the investment. And now you throw in everything else thatís happened. Itís located in a city where most people despise Trump, so youíre not going to get the locals down there. According to the New York Timesí reporting, it lost money even when Trump was president. Well now that heís not president, theyíre not going to bring in any more.

Why did you decide to retire 1100 Pennsylvania now?

The plan had always been to keep it going until I got a full-time staff job. Honestly, Iím surprised it lasted more than 100 issues. [Forbes] was just a great opportunity. As a freelancer, Iíve found that my reporting is better when Iím working with editors. The other frustration was I would have stories that I thought were decent scoops, and they wouldnít get any attention because they originated on a newsletter. Forbes offered resources, and it offers an audience. I have LexisNexis access.

You noted in your last newsletter that so many journalists from established publications are leaving to start their own Substacks, and youíre basically doing the opposite.

I have no complaints about Substack. I think itís a lot better move if you are more of an opinion writer/columnist than a journalist, and if you already have a dedicated following. When youíre a journalist who doesnít have a well known name and youíre starting off at a newsletter like that, it is a really tough sell.

In your new role, do you think youíll continue to cover the hotel at all?

Absolutely. That is part of the beat. It is expanding what Iím doing to cover Republican and Democrats.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.†

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.