Donald Trump Jr.’s Indian finale: a ‘fireside chat’ and buyers’ dinner with champagne
NEW DELHI — Donald Trump Jr. backed off a planned speech on regional affairs Friday, opting instead for a cozy “fireside chat” on pressures of work and family amid questions over possible conflicts on a trip to promote Trump properties.
Trump Jr. arrived in India earlier this week on 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.
Critics wondered why he was giving a foreign policy speech on a private business trip and slammed as influence peddling a high-profile advertising campaign that offered real estate buyers conversation and dinner with Trump Jr.
After the speech subject was hastily switched Friday, Trump Jr. sat before a video-projected fireplace image and spoke of such safe topics as his father’s stressful job, his sister Ivanka and the potential for India’s real estate market.
“I’m here as a businessman,” Trump Jr. said in his remarks at the Global Business Summit. “I’m not representing anyone.”
He also said that he and his father see each other infrequently and do not talk about politics. “We see him so little that when we’re together, it’s really about being a family,” he said.
Summit organizers abruptly changed the speech’s title from “Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: The Era of Cooperation” to “A Fireside Chat with Donald Trump Jr.” Organizers characterized the switch as an honest mix-up.
Trump Jr., 40, executive vice president of the Trump Organization, said the family decided to stop pursuing new deals in India after his father was elected president — a business decision he described as “unfortunate.”
“It is difficult. It’s tough as a businessman, but it’s fully understandable,” he said, vowing to get back into dealmaking in the Indian market “when we’re out of politics.”
After his speech, Trump Jr. was whisked away to the dinner with buyers of Trump properties, who had been urged to book their pricey apartments by Thursday to qualify for “a conversation and dinner” with the president’s son, alarming watchdog groups.
“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.”
The Trump Organization did not respond to emails or telephone calls requesting comment.
Trump Jr. dismissed such conflict-of-interest concerns as “nonsense.” He 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.
Trump Jr. has been scouting deals in India for more than a decade, work that eventually resulted in lucrative licensing agreements for two residential towers in the western city of Pune, as well as a 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.
Trump Jr. was festooned in Mumbai 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 strayed briefly 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. He also spoke of the grind of a federal investigation into alleged Russian interference in support of his father in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“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.
A Times of India reporter who covered the Kolkata leg of his tour wrote that a “dapper Donald Trump Jr.” was seemingly unperturbed by criticism back home and “charmed” an audience of buyers and real estate honchos at a gala dinner.
Washington, of course, was less sympathetic. That same day, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote a curt letter to the U.S. ambassador in India, seeking assurances that the embassy had not helped Trump Jr. on his speech or expended funds for it. Menendez said on Twitter that the trip raised “red flags.” The embassy said it had provided only routine support to his Secret Service detail.
“The optics of the visit do not look good from Washington — or from any other place for that matter,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “Though at the same time, I think there’s a realization that this is the new normal and there’s not much that can be done about it.”
This week, a steady stream of prospective buyers came through the new Trump showroom in the burgeoning New Delhi suburb of Gurgaon, eager to pay a $38,000 booking fee for luxury residences in a Trump Towers project with units selling for up to $1.6 million.
When the project — a joint venture between Mumbai-based Tribeca Developers and M3M, a family business that stands for “Magnificence in the Trinity of Men, Materials and Money” — was launched in January, its promotional materials touted an infinity pool, reflexology garden and sweeping views of an “adjoining 9-hole golf course.”
The golf course actually sits in the neighboring Golf Estate development, also owned by M3M, that has been plagued by delays. Disappointed home buyers said that M3M initially marketed the course as an executive-level grass playing surface, but eventually abandoned those plans and put in synthetic turf instead. M3M officials did not respond to telephone calls or a list of questions by email.
Manoj Gulati, owner of one of India’s largest spice conglomerates, was among those who booked a four-bedroom apartment in the Trump Towers on Monday, a day when real estate sales worth $15 million were recorded. Gulati, who has multiple apartments across the country, said he decided to invest in the Trump Towers after a friend recommended it to him, not to have access to the first family.
“It was a good investment. Trump’s name adds credibility to the project, and I know that the construction will be good,” said Gulati.