Birther madness buried an intriguing part of potential presidential candidate Donald Trump’s chat with ABC News reporter George Stephanopoulos last week.

In the interview, Trump, the billionaire business mogul, author and star of the dreadful but highly rated television show “Celebrity Apprentice,” said he’d called the White House a while back to offer to build an enormous ballroom there to replace the tent that’s used for state dinners and other major events.

“Listen, every time I see a function,” Trump said he told David Axelrod , then a senior adviser to President Obama, “you put up an old broken canvas tent,” probably rented from some overcharging local company.

“I will build you, free of charge, one of the great ballrooms of the world,” Trump said he told Axelrod, one that will “cost maybe $100 million” and be “attached to the White House.” (No determination on the size of the gold plaque thanking “The Donald” or where it would be affixed.)

Axelrod said, “That’s great,” Trump recalled, but “I never heard from ’em.”

Our colleague Dan Balz e-mailed Axelrod to ask about Trump’s complaint. Axelrod acknowledged the conversation and said he had told Trump, “I’d pass that along to the social secretary, which I did.”

But Axelrod told Balz that the conversation occurred after he had called Trump, not the other way around. Trump, now at the top of some polls on nominees for the GOP presidential candidate, “contacted me originally asking to be put in charge of the operation in the gulf to seal the oil leak.” That would have been in late June or so.

Well, they had been using hair to soak up some of the oil from the BP well, and Trump has plenty of that. The well had been out of control for two months by then and there was that constant image of oil spewing in the gulf, despite numerous efforts to stop it. Nobody seemed to know what to do.

“I know how to run big projects,” Trump told Axelrod. “Why don’t you put me in charge?”

“I told him I thought we were close to solving it and would get back to him,” Axelrod recalled. “Two weeks later, we had the leak sealed, and I called him back to thank him for his offer.”

“It was in that conversation,” Axelrod continued, that Trump proposed building the ballroom.

Remember how President John F. Kennedy, looking for someone with management skills, picked former Ford executive and “Whiz Kid” Robert McNamara to run the Pentagon? Didn’t work out so well.

We e-mailed The Donald to see whether he wanted to respond to Axelrod’s comments. No word back.

No, that’s not ‘TMZ’

The skies continued to be darkened by planes carrying U.S. officials overseas, with Asia apparently having become the top destination. The turmoil in the Middle East may be dissuading junkets there. Rome and Paris beckon, but members and spouses might be tiring of going to the same places spring after spring.

This week we have Commerce Secretary Gary Locke off to South Korea on what may be his last trip before he becomes ambassador to China. Locke is heading a delegation that includes five House members: Democrats Charles Rangel (N.Y.), Jim McDermott (Wash.), Joseph Crowley (N.Y.) and Gary Peters (Mich.) and Republican David Reichert (Wash.).

It’s only a three-day visit, starting with a chat Wednesday with President Lee Myung-bak. The trip is to “build support for the passage of the U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement.”

No spouses, long flight for a short trip, and they’re flying commercial. So, unless you’re hankering to visit the scenic Demilitarized Zone with North Korea, this is not a Loop-recommended codel.

A better itinerary

On the other hand, Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the chairman and ranking minority member, respectively, of the Senate Appropriations Committee, have gone (on military air) for a one-week trip to the Philippines and Vietnam.

The trip has a nicely broad agenda, which is “meeting with Philippine and Vietnamese government officials and U.S. military commanders to discuss an array of topics including terrorism and the lingering effects of Agent Orange.” They met Monday with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.

In Hanoi on Wednesday afternoon they’ll be at the American Chamber of Commerce for a “small round-table discussion about doing business in Vietnam and about the current happenings in Washington,” according to a chamber invite. Only U.S.-based company reps will be invited, and only 20 of them will be able to participate, so this should make for a fine afternoon. It’s only $10 for members. By the way, the chamber, which also has a chapter in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), has more than 700 members.

In the China shop

Speaking of Locke’s nomination to Beijing, the current ambassador, potential presidential contender Jon Huntsman , is finishing up his tour this week. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we hear, is hoping to hold a hearing (full committee) in mid-May or at least before the Memorial Day recess.

Barring the usual unforeseen circumstances, Locke shouldn’t have trouble. But the hearing might be worth watching as members lay down their markers on things such as China’s push in the South China Sea, its nuclear modernization program, relations with Iran and North Korea, human rights, currency ma­nipu­la­tion, and so forth.

Locke, who’s been working on commerce issues since he was governor of Washington, will no doubt be comfortable on business matters. It’s the other stuff that could cause some fireworks with the committee.

The next logical step

Former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who quit after criticizing the military’s treatment of the accused WikiLeaks leaker, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, is heading to Penn State’s law school this summer for a one-year appointment as the Omar Bradley Chair of Strategic Leadership.