Donald Trump Jr. landed in India earlier this week for a contractually obligated trip to promote his family’s branded real estate projects, but controversy seemed to dog the president’s eldest son at every turn.
The trip was meant to climax with a foreign policy speech at a business summit on “Indo-Pacific” relations, but amid the outcry over conflicts of interest between the family business and his father’s job, it was hastily changed to the more innocuous “A Fireside Chat with Donald Trump Jr.”
After meeting India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Trump Jr. will be whisked away to another event, a dinner with buyers of Trump properties that had prompted accusations of influence peddling by ethics watchdogs.
“With this trip to India, the Trump Organization is literally selling access to the first family,” said Kathleen Clark, a law professor and ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis. “It is providing condo buyers with a chance to curry favor with President Trump through that purchase, and also giving them an opportunity for face-to-face communication with one of Trump’s sons.”
For his part, Trump Jr., 40, the executive vice president of the Trump Organization, dismissed such conflict-of-interest concerns as “nonsense,” and told Indian reporters in a roundtable that his family had voluntarily agreed to put a number of promising deals in India on hold after his father was elected.
“That will cost us quite a bit of money I’m sure in terms of lost opportunity,” Trump Jr., said. The Trump Organization did not respond to emails or telephone calls requesting comment.
The president’s eldest son has been scouting deals in India for over a decade, work that eventually resulted in lucrative licensing agreements for two residential towers in the western city of Pune and the 78-story Mumbai project that is set to be completed next year and is supposed to evoke a glass of champagne when lit up at night.
There, Trump Jr. was festooned with a jasmine welcome garland, his forehead smeared with a red vermilion powder, as he snipped the ribbon on the tower that will have its own private jet service. Plans are also in the works for an office tower and residences in Gurgaon, a New Delhi suburb, as well as Kolkata.
In conversations with handpicked Indian journalists, Trump did once stray from the business at hand to hold forth about American mainstream media – “disgusting” – and the difficulty of being a husband and father while living in a high-pressure fishbowl and the grind of the investigation into alleged Russian involvement into his father’s presidential campaign.
“The level of scrutiny is ridiculous,” he said. “The good thing is, after all that – millions in legal fees, hundreds of hours of preparation, every headline in the world trying to attack me personally – they kept digging and the only thing that they found is that the other side is doing these things and we didn’t do anything.”
Trump Jr. was well-received in India, which has had largely positive relations with the Trump administration for the last year, except for some tension over trade.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Annie Gowen, Swati Gupta, Vidhi Dosh