Trump Jr. just announced an “unofficial” trip that has ethics lawyers up in arms

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In refusing to divest his private interests like every president before him, Donald Trump and his sons have repeatedly claimed that there is a clear separation between the family’s extensive global businesses that ensure no conflict of interest.

Yet this week the president’s oldest son, Donald Jr., who is an executive vice president of The Trump Organization, and with his younger brother Eric charged with running the empire while daddy is in the White House, is in India on promotional business trip where he will also be making the kind of speech only an official American diploma should make. 

If ethics are important to you, this story will make you shudder.

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Don Jr., the son best known for taking a meeting with the Russians to spy on Secretary Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign,  will be speaking about foreign policy at an event called “Preparing India for the Future” which will be attended by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which is sponsored by the Economic Times newspaper.

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His topic will be “Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: The New Era of Cooperation.”

Unlike his sister Ivanka or his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, Don Jr. has no office or job in the White House, and in fact, is supposed to be separated due to his active role in the family business. 

In India, as elsewhere, The Trump Organization doesn’t actually spend its own money to build buildings, but rather licenses the family name and promises promotional visits. When the contract was signed, it was understood Donald Trump would visit, but now that he has that other job, Don Jr. has been dispatched to the sub-continent.

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Newspaper and magazine ads and other promotions have been hyping Don Jr.’s visit, especially in cities where the family is involved n real estate projects – Mumbai, the New Delhi suburb f Gurgaon and the eastern city of Kolkata.

The glossy full-page ads have the headline: “Trump is here – Are You Invited?”

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Those who plunk down a booking fee of about $38,000 are invited to “join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner.”

Most of the projects are residential but one tower is an office building. In the residential, apartments cost from $780,000 to $1.6 million each and offer private elevators, catering services, and an indoor swimming pool.

Since the beginning of this year, apartments worth almost $70 million have been sold in the Gurgaon towers, according to Amit Sharma, a spokesperson for the developer.

Don Jr. will also travel to Mumbai for the opening of sales in a Trump Tower which like the New York flagship building will have a golden facade.

It is being built by the family of an Indian state legislator.

While the developer says this is a chance to “celebrate the entire exercise,” it seems to most others who pay attention as the definition of a conflict of interest in a country where the Trump Organization does more business than with any other foreign country.

Since 2014 the licensing income from India, according to financial filings, has run from $1.6 million to $11 million annually.

 “Trump’s company is literally selling access to the president’s son overseas,” Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told The Washington Post. 

“For many people wanting to impact American policy in the region,” added Libowtiz, “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.”

While the trip is on behalf of The Trump Organization, Don Jr. is being accompanied by a team of U.S. Secret Service agents at enormous cost to American taxpayers.

As bad as that is, the cost to American ethics is even steeper. 

For the Trumps, this is par for the course.

Whether it is the president going to Trump golf courses and hotels every weekend and holiday, or foreign visitors staying at places like the Trump hotel near the White House on property leased from the government in a former post office, there have been obvious and continuing violations not only of ethics, but also of the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which has spawned a number of lawsuits.

Yet the Trump family keeps making fake promises and then violating ethical boundaries and U.S. law as if it is, well, above the law.

It is not.

 

 

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Benjamin Locke

Benjamin Locke is a retired college professor with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Labor and Relations from Cornell University and an MBA from the European School of Management.

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