This Week in Conflicts: Trump’s Fingerprint in India, Possible Investigation for Kushner and the Emoluments Lawsuit Moves Forward


(The Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. Image credit: Flickr user JamesMcNellis)

This week, new details about Donald Trump Jr.’s visits to India are coming to light that help paint a better picture of the Trump Organization’s fingerprint in the country, reports show Jared Kushner may be under investigation for loans his company received, and the latest with the emoluments lawsuit against President Donald Trump.

India and Trump Inc.

(Screenshot of The New Republic website. Image Credit: The New Republic, Getty and New York Times)

Remember when Donald Trump Jr. “unofficially” visited India? Full-page ads in local Indian newspapers highlighted his visit and Fox News reported the visit overshadowed Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit.

According to an article in the New Republic by reporter Anjali Kamat, in the last decade Trump Jr. has made at least ten trips to India, a country where the Trump Organization has entered into more deals than any other foreign country. The deals are similar to others the company has around the world, focused on licensing of the Trump brand but not taking an ownership stake in the buildings branded with the Trump name.

“Still, members of the Trump family have been intimately involved in all facets of these projects, according to multiple sources,” Kamat reports. “They have selected the business partners and overseen the construction, design, and marketing of each property; when flagrant violations of government regulations threatened the success of one deal, Donald Trump Jr. intervened directly with a high-level official.”

Those deals, according to financial disclosures filed by the president, produced royalties of as much as $11 million between 2014 and 2017.

According to the New Republic, in April 2012 Trump Jr. traveled to Mumbai to try to get the Trump Organization’s first project in India restarted, after it had been halted. While there, Trump Jr. met with Indian Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and asked for the decision to revoke the permits to be overturned.

“Chavan declined,” Kamat reports, and said, “‘I would get into trouble to sanction something that was blatantly illegal.’”

The people President Trump has chosen to partner with in India have also come under scrutiny. The Investigative Fund highlights the concerns with some of those partners and projects here.

Kamat’s reporting is highlighted in the latest episode of the “Trump, Inc.” podcast, a production of WNYC Studios and ProPublica.

Kushner’s Loans

(Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to President Donald J. Trump, receives a gift from Iraqi Minister of Defense Erfan al-Hiyali at the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad, Iraq, April 3, 2017. DoD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro.)

As Sunlight highlighted this week, the acting director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE) said the White House Counsel’s office is investigating whether loans to Jared Kushner’s family business broke laws or regulations, in answer to an inquiry by Illinois Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi.

According to a March 22 letter by David Apol, the counsel is specifically examining a meeting with business leaders who later loaned money to Kushner Companies.

In his letter, he wrote, “The White House informed me that they had already begun this process. I have asked the White House to inform me of the results of that process.”

According to CNN, in a separate letter dated March 14 Apol “told Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal that he had discussed ethical concerns about Kushner with the White House Counsel’s office ‘in order to ensure’ that office looks into whether any law or regulation had been violated. ‘During that discussion, the White House informed me that they had already begun this process,’ Apol wrote.”

Earlier this month, the businesses confirmed the loans – which total more than $500 million – and claimed the meetings with Kushner had no impact on their decision to lend the money.

During a press briefing this week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said lawyers are not investigating whether or not Kushner violated the law.

Presidential Pardons Promised?

(Retired U.S. Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn at a campaign rally for Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Image Credit: Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons)

The New York Times reported one of President Trump’s lawyers discussed the idea of the President pardoning two of his former advisers, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers in 2017.

“The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation,” reported Michael S. Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti and Adam Goldman reported from Washington, and Jo Becker and Maggie Haberman, in a quintuple byline.

Legal experts are divided about whether discussing offering a pardon would constitute obstruction of justice.

Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, told the New York Times, “there are few powers in the Constitution as absolute as the pardon power — it is exclusively the president’s and cannot be burdened by the courts or the legislature. It would be very difficult to look at the president’s motives in issuing a pardon to make an obstruction case.”

Emoluments Lawsuit Moves Ahead

(Donald Trump speaking at a campaign rally in June 2016. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

A federal judge says the lawsuit alleging President Trump violated the emoluments clause can move forward but must focus solely on his businesses in Washington, D.C.

In the lawsuit, brought forward by the attorneys general in Washington, D.C. and Maryland, claims President Trump’s financial ties to the Trump International Hotel in D.C., violates the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution. The clause bans public officials from receiving gifts and payments from foreign governments without the approval of Congress.

The lawsuit specifically references payments and business associated with the Trump International Hotel in D.C. The plaintiffs also allege Maryland and D.C. companies are losing out on potential business because people are choosing Trump-owned properties, instead of local businesses.

In last week’s round-up, we highlighted a report from WAMU, Washington D.C.’s NPR-affiliate, that said President Trump has been personally named in the lawsuit.

More conflicts of interest in the news

About this Project

Sunlight’s “Tracking Trump’s Conflicts of Interest” presents a comprehensive, free, searchable database detailing all of President Donald J.Trump’s known business dealings and personal interests that may conflict with his public duties as president of the United States. Read our reporting to stay current on related news, learn more about conflicts of interest at every level of government and search our database. If you’re familiar with any of the conflicts we’re tracking you can email us or contact us here to contribute to the project.

Lynn Walsh is an Emmy award-winning freelance journalist who has worked in investigative, data and TV journalism at the national level as well as locally in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida. She produces content focused on government accountability, public access to information and freedom of expression issues. She’s also helping to rebuild trust between newsrooms and the public through the Trusting News project. Connect with her via email here.