Full-page glossy advertisements urged buyers paying a booking fee of about $38,000 by Thursday to “join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner” on Friday. Kalpesh Mehta, one of the local developers, told reporters Tuesday that they already had sold over $100 million worth of real estate in the towers — $15 million alone on Monday, after the Trump Jr. dinner offer appeared in newspapers. Construction on the project is expected to finish in 2023.
His visit also prompted questions in Washington. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) raised concern in a letter sent Wednesday to the U.S. ambassador in India about the embassy’s engagement with President Trump’s eldest son. Trump Jr. is set to give a speech at a global business summit in New Delhi on Friday titled “Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: The New Era of Cooperation” alongside Modi and other high-ranking Indian government officials.
“I am concerned that Mr. Trump’s speech will send the mistaken message that he is speaking on behalf of the president, the administration or the United States government, not as a private individual, or that he is communicating official American policy,” wrote Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
“Given the potential to confuse Mr. Trump’s private business visit with having an official governmental purpose, I write to ensure that the U.S. Embassy presence in India will have no role in supporting Mr. Trump or the Trump Organization during his time in India, other than that necessary to provide any security support for the U.S. Secret Service,” Menendez wrote.
Menendez also asked whether the embassy will have any role in the buyers’ dinner, which has raised concerns by watchdog groups.
A spokesman for U.S. Ambassador Kenneth I. Juster said that Trump Jr. is visiting the country as a “private citizen” and that the embassy had provided only routine support for his Secret Service detail, such as booking hotel rooms.
Juster is in the process of replying to the letter from Menendez, who also asked whether embassy staff had briefed or assisted Trump Jr., what steps the embassy had taken to make it clear that Trump Jr. is not speaking on behalf of the government and whether the State Department or Bureau of Diplomatic Security had spent funds on Trump Jr.’s trip.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert likewise said Tuesday that Trump Jr. is in India as a “private citizen” and that she was not familiar with what was going to be in the speech or how it was put together.
Trump Jr., 40, is executive vice president of the Trump Organization, the global family real estate business that his father still controls. The company has licensed its name to five real estate projects in India, including residential towers in Pune, Mumbai, Gurgaon and Kolkata as well as a proposed office tower in Gurgaon, a suburb of India’s capital also known as Gurugram. Some of the Trump Organization’s local business partners have ties to prominent politicians and have been involved in tax and other investigations.
Unlike his sister and brother-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Trump Jr. has no official role in the administration, although he attended a meeting with a group of Russians at Trump Tower in New York during the 2016 presidential campaign that is the subject of law enforcement and congressional scrutiny.
The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to emails and calls requesting comment, but Trump Jr. said in a televised interview at the CNBC affiliate in India that his family had not received enough acknowledgment for the business they have lost because of self-imposed restrictions to avoid such perceptions of conflicts of interest.
“It’s sort of a shame, because we put on all these impositions on ourselves and essentially got no credit for actually doing that,” Trump Jr. said in the interview. “For doing the right thing,” he added.
Critics on Capitol Hill and elsewhere have pointed out that Secret Service agents assigned to protect the Trump sons accompany them on these private business trips to promote the family’s brand, racking up costly hotel bills and draining the agency’s budget.
In 2017, for example, a business trip to Uruguay by Trump Jr.’s brother Eric cost taxpayers $97,830 for hotel stays for Secret Service personnel plus embassy staff that supported the agents during the “VIP visit,” according to purchasing orders reviewed by The Washington Post.
Catherine Milhoan, a spokeswoman for the Secret Service, said in an email, “As a matter of practice, the U.S. Secret Service does not comment on the specifics of protectees’ trips.”
Published U.S. government rates for hotel rooms in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune and Kolkata — the cities Trump Jr. is visiting — range from a maximum of $273 per night in Pune to $309 in Mumbai.
Swati Gupta and Vidhi Doshi in New Delhi contributed to this report.