By Eli Lee
September 17, 2019

During a sales trip to India in February 2018, Donald Trump Jr., along with Trump Organization partners there, offered early buyers of Trump-branded condo units in New Delhi a controversial incentive: access to the American president’s eldest son during a private New York reception. Last week, Tribeca Developers and M3M India Ltd.—the two Indian real-estate firms the Trump Organization partnered with on the project—followed through on this promise by flying around 100 homebuyers to the United States to meet with Donald Trump Jr. at a Trump golf course in the Bronx, according to Indian press reports and social media posts associated with the event.

The identities of the homebuyers are not public, so it is not known if the individuals have ties to the Indian government or other interests that have business with the United States. Yet the meeting is only the latest example of how patronage of Trump businesses may be allowing potential influence-seekers, including individuals from foreign countries, to purchase access to the president’s son.

While giving interviews related to the meeting, Trump Jr. also seemed to state his intention to pursue further business in India after the end of his father’s presidency. He told the Indian newspaper Mint that “India is a market that we would be very interested post politics [sic].” He went on, “After politics, we would certainly look at India and other markets.” 

Trump Jr. also told the Indian television station CNBC TV18, “There will be time to be back in [India] later on.” His interview with the station focused largely on his role as the President’s son and political surrogate, reinforcing the idea buyers in India might have that buying Trump properties is a way to get access to Trump’s circle of influence.

While these statements do not violate, per se, President Trump’s pledge that the Trump Organization would not make any new foreign deals during his presidency, they do seem to conflict with the spirit of that pledge. If President Trump knows that the Trump Organization, which he still owns and profits from, intends to pursue business opportunities in India, it could influence his policy decisions regarding the country regardless of whether a specific deal has been made or not. 

Donald Trump Jr.’s involvement in the Trump Organization’s foreign business interests has raised ethical alarms before, with some observers fearing that Trump Jr. could be used by the Trump Organization’s customers as a conduit to his father. Prior to his visit to India, ads for the new Trump Tower project linked the building’s $38,000 booking fee to an opportunity to “join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner.” During the same trip, Trump Jr. was originally slated to deliver a speech on foreign policy at a conference in New Delhi, highlighting the inherently political undertones of his visit.

This latest meeting is yet another example of how President Trump’s refusal to divest from his businesses has made otherwise routine Trump Organization business into an ethical minefield.

For his own part, President Trump also has a visitor from India coming soon. On September 22, just over a week after his son’s New York rendezvous with customers from India, the president will appear in Houston with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss relations between the United States and India.

Meanwhile, Americans will have to ask themselves whether the president is there solely as an advocate for the American people’s best interests, or whether he’s also concerned about his business prospects after he leaves the White House.

Photo by Gage Skidmore.