Fears rise that Trump Jnr ‘seems to represent US in his India business trip’ – as he makes US$15 million in one day
Donald Trump Jnr is to give a speech on foreign policy alongside India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday – even though he’s in the country on a business trip
Concerns have been raised in the US Senate that Donald Trump Jnr’s business trip to promote real-estate in India – a promotion that netted US$15 million on Monday alone – could mislead people into thinking that it is backed by the American government.
On Friday, Trump Jnr is to give a speech on US foreign policy alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and other high-ranking Indian government officials.
That rattled Senator Robert Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, so much that he wrote to the US embassy for clarification.
“I am concerned that Mr Trump’s speech will send the mistaken message that he is speaking on behalf of the president, the administration or the United States government, not as a private individual, or that he is communicating official American policy,” Menendez wrote.
“Given the potential to confuse Mr Trump’s private business visit with having an official governmental purpose, I write to ensure that the US embassy presence in India will have no role in supporting Mr Trump or the Trump Organization during his time in India, other than that necessary to provide any security support for the US Secret Service.”
The president’s eldest son is set to give the speech at a global business summit in New Delhi on Friday titled “Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: The New Era of Cooperation”. His visit to the country has been accompanied by adverts that read “Trump is here. Are you invited?”
In response, spokesman for US Ambassador Kenneth Juster said that Trump is visiting the country as a “private citizen” and that the embassy had only provided routine support for his Secret Service detail, such as booking hotel rooms.
Juster is in the process of replying to the letter from Menendez, a Democrat senator from New Jersey, which had asked a series of questions.
They included whether embassy staff had briefed or assisted Trump, what steps the embassy had taken to make it clear that Trump is not speaking on behalf of the government and whether the State Department or Bureau of Diplomatic Security had spent any funds on Trump’s trip.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday that Trump was in India as a “private citizen” and that she was not familiar with what was going to be in the speech or how it was put together.
The president’s eldest son, 40, is executive vice-president of the Trump Organization, the global family real estate business that President Donald Trump still controls.
The company has licensed its name to five real estate projects in India, including residential towers in Pune, Mumbai, Gurgaon and Kolkata and a proposed office tower also in Gurgaon, a suburb of India’s capital also known as Gurugram.
Some of the Trump Organization’s local business partners have ties to prominent politicians and have been involved in tax and other investigations.
Unlike his sister and brother-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Trump Jnr has no official role in the administration.
However, he did attend a meeting with a group of Russians at Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign that is the subject of law enforcement and congressional scrutiny.
He has been spending the week in a variety of private lunches and dinners with potential buyers and local business leaders as well as enticing buyers to purchase residences in the latest Trump Towers project in Gurgaon, where luxury flats sell for as much as US$1.6 million.
Full-page glossy advertisements urged buyers paying a booking fee of about US$38,000 by Thursday to “join Mr Donald Trump Jnr for a conversation and dinner” on Friday.
Kalpesh Mehta, one of the local developers, told reporters that they had already sold more than US$100 million worth of real estate in the towers – US$15 million alone on Monday, after the Trump Jnr dinner offer appeared in newspapers.
The buyers’ dinner has raised conflict-of-interest concerns and charges by watchdog groups. Menendez asked whether the embassy will have any role in this event.
The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to emails and calls requesting comment.
But Trump said in a televised interview at the CNBC affiliate in India that his family had not been given enough credit for the business they have lost because of self-imposed restrictions to avoid such perceptions of conflicts of interest.
“It’s sort of a shame. Because we put on all these impositions on ourselves and essentially got no credit for actually doing that,” Trump said in the interview.
“For doing the right thing,” he added.
Critics on Capitol Hill and elsewhere have pointed out that Secret Service agents assigned to protect the Trump sons accompany them on these private business trips to promote the family’s brand name, racking up costly hotel bills and draining the agency’s budget.
In 2017, for example, Eric Trump’s business trip to Uruguay cost taxpayers US$97,830 for hotel stays for the Secret Service plus embassy staff that supported the agents during the “VIP visit,” according to purchasing orders reviewed by The Washington Post.
Catherine Milhoan, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said in an email: “As a matter of practice, the US Secret Service does not comment on the specifics of protectees’ trips.”
Published US government rates for hotel rooms in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune and Kolkata, the cities Trump is visiting, range from a maximum of US$273 per night in Pune to US$309 in Mumbai.