Donald Trump Jr.'s tour through India is staggeringly corrupt

Feb 22, 2018, 01:33 PM

Donald Trump Jr. arrived in India on Tuesday for a week-long visit, and his trip has already revealed a couple of things.

First, it’s clear that the Trump administration is still embroiled in huge conflicts of interest. And second, it’s evident that the Trump brand, though toxic at home, commands surprising power in the world’s second most populous country.

President Trump’s eldest son will be spending his time in India promoting Trump-branded luxury apartments across the country. He’ll be meeting with real estate brokers and potential buyers throughout the week in his family business’s biggest market outside the US.

He’s also offering a special reward to Indians who buy property from him: He’ll join them for an intimate meal.

Indian newspapers have been running advertisements that promise homebuyers willing to pay a roughly $38,000 booking fee an opportunity to “join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner.”

Government ethics experts in the US are appalled by that prospect, and say that the arrangement encourages Indians — especially those with ties to India’s government — to use purchases of Trump-branded property as a way to gain favor with the Trump administration.

“For many people wanting to impact American policy in the region, the cost of a condo is a small price to pay to lobby one of the people closest to the president, far away from watchful eyes,” Jordan Libowitz, the communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told the Washington Post.

Trump Jr.’s India visit also highlights something else: While Trump’s polarizing presidency has put a dent in his domestic businesses, it doesn’t seem to have damaged his reputation in India. In fact, the Trump brand seems to be chugging along quite nicely there.

Trump Jr.’s visit to India not only suggests that the Trump Organization wants to lean into its investments in India — it almost seems designed to invite corrupt behavior.

Experts say Junior is selling access to himself — and by proxy, to the president of the US — in exchange for buying his products. He knows that if a member of the Indian elite wants a chance to advocate for a policy that they’d like to see enacted, buying Trump property is a simple way to do it.

But what makes it crystal clear that Trump Jr. wants to use his political ties to advance his business interests is the fact that he’s planning to deliver a speech on Indo-Pacific relations at an event in India on Friday. (It’s a serious affair — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be speaking at the same summit.)

Unlike his sister Ivanka, Trump Jr. is not a formal member of the White House. He’s technically just a businessman running the Trump Organization on behalf of his father.

But by delivering a foreign policy speech, Trump Jr. is signaling to Indians that he’s in their country as a businessman and as a surrogate for the US government. If any wealthy Indians were on the fence about whether it was worth buying a condo just to talk to Trump Jr. about, say, trade policy, the fact that he’s delivering that speech should make it seem worthwhile. Trump Jr. is sending a clear signal that he wants to talk policy.

And since he is deliberately blurring the lines between his role as a businessman and as the son of the president, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to conclude that President Trump’s foreign policy could be for sale to the highest bidder.

Back in the US, Donald Trump’s pivot to politics seems to have hurt a number of his businesses.

The Trump Organization saw a 3 percent decline in revenue during the 2016 campaign and the early months of the Trump presidency.

And during the past year, a number of Trump’s businesses — particularly those in blue states — appear to have taken a substantial hit. For example, attendance at his golf courses in the Northeast and on the West Coast has declined, with a double-digit drop in revenue at his course outside of Los Angeles.

In New York City — Trump’s hom...