Trump Jr., 40, is the executive vice president of the family real estate company that the president still owns, although the elder Trump says he has stepped back from day-to-day control.
During his tour, Trump Jr. walked the red carpet, attended a ribbon-cutting at a high-rise overlooking the Arabian Sea in Mumbai, hosted champagne dinners for buyers and had a private tête-à-tête with India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. Full-page glossy newspaper ads offered those who put down a $38,000 deposit on a new luxury project outside New Delhi a chance to dine with the president’s son, prompting charges of conflict of interest. His team boasted to reporters that it had sold $100 million worth of the pricey flats, including $15 million in a single day.
The Secret Service is authorized by law to protect the president and his immediate family, although Trump Jr. briefly waived his protective guard last fall while on a moose-hunting trip to the Yukon. The idea that U.S. taxpayers are footing the bill for Secret Service travel while the Trump children are on trips to promote the family’s brand overseas has prompted criticism from both Capitol Hill and watchdog groups.
Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said that because the president has not placed his assets in a blind trust, as other presidents have done, he still effectively controls his real estate empire and benefits from his children’s travels. Both Trump Jr. and the president’s other son, Eric, have traveled widely to promote the Trump brand, including trips to Dubai and Vancouver, B.C.
“The issue is that essentially the president still owns his businesses, and these trips are being done to make the president money. Essentially the government is spending money for the president’s private businesses,” Libowitz said.
The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to emails or return calls for comment. In a statement, Jeffrey Adams, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said for security reasons the agency could not discuss “the means, methods, resources, costs, or numbers utilized to carry out our protective responsibilities.”
The Trump family will face tighter scrutiny going forward now that the Democrats have regained control of the House of Representatives, experts say. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who has been a frequent critic of the strains Trump’s family has placed on the Secret Service’s budget, is expected to assume control of the powerful House Oversight Committee next year.
Democrats began investigating the costs of Trump’s family travel last year, but the effort did not get far. They are now awaiting the results of two reports from the Government Accountability Office — one on the costs of presidential travel and a second on the security at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s estate in Palm Beach, Fla., the committee said.
Chuck Young, managing director of public affairs for the GAO, says the family travel study is expected in mid-December and will include travel in 2017. That means Trump Jr.’s India trip is not in the study’s scope.
During the nearly week-long trip protecting Trump Jr., Secret Service agents following Trump crisscrossed the country, staying in a variety of luxury hotels, including the Oberoi in New Delhi and the Four Seasons in Mumbai, where rooms range from $150 to nearly $500 a night. The promotional events were for properties where the Trumps have licensing deals, not properties the Trump Organization owns.
The documents released by DHS are incomplete. The Mumbai figures show an estimate of the total trip cost as $25,174, including $18,785 for rooms at the Four Seasons and $6,389 for car rentals, cellphone use and payment of local staff. Purchase orders of the final hotel bills with the General Services Administration show the government actually paid $15,166 for rooms during what it called “Don Jr Visit to Mumbai” and another bill for $3,501, a bit less than the estimate.
The documents for the New Delhi days of the trip show only the hotel receipts — about $27,000 — which adjusted down to $15,360 because a member of the group whose name was redacted “will settle his hotel invoice on his own,” according to the documents.
The government spent a similar amount — about $97,830 — for hotel stays for Secret Service and embassy staffers for Eric Trump’s trip last year to Uruguay, a Post review of purchasing orders found. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington released a report in July showing the Secret Service spent $200,000 on airfare, hotel rooms and other expenses when Trump Jr. and Eric Trump went to the United Arab Emirates to open a golf resort last year.