By Iain Marlow
Donald Trump Jr. dodged controversy during a speech in New Delhi alongside India’s prime minister by switching his topic from what was originally touted as a foreign policy address to less contentious topics such as family and business.
“I’m here as a businessman,” the U.S. president’s son said. “I’m not representing anyone.”
Trump Jr., an executive vice president of the Trump Organization Inc., was in India selling the company’s luxury condominiums. But the trip raised questions of conflict of interest, since access to the president’s eldest child was also on offer: recent full-page ads in Indian newspapers announced that “Trump is here. Are you invited?” The ads said customers who bought a Trump Towers residence could join Trump Jr. for dinner and a conversation.
The Trump Organization’s business is booming in India, where more construction projects with Trump licensing deals are under way than in any other country outside of the U.S.
Trump Jr. was originally billed to give a foreign policy address on “Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: The New Era of Cooperation” at a business conference, immediately before remarks by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Kenneth Juster, the U.S. ambassador to India saying he was “concerned that Mr. Trump’s speech will send the mistaken message that he is speaking on behalf of the President.”
Trump Jr., 40, and brother Eric Trump have no formal roles within the Trump administration, unlike the president’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
Menendez urged the ambassador to “take every effort to avoid any perception of special treatment or a conflict of interest,” and ensure the embassy wasn’t providing special assistance.
As the trip was scrutinized in the media, Trump Jr.’s speech was rebranded as a “fireside chat.” The U.S. embassy in New Delhi has said Trump Jr. is a private citizen, and that diplomatic personnel weren’t involved in his trip.
“It is indeed strange for him to be speaking alongside India’s prime minister, given the great gulf between their backgrounds and areas of focus,” said Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
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