Eric Trump says criticizing his family’s conflicts of interest, as well as the blurred line between the Trump Organization and the White House, is an infringement of their First Amendment rights.
“What don’t we get hammered for?” he said, speaking with Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Thursday, addressing pushback against his brother, Donald Trump Jr., who recently traveled to India to deliver a speech at an event with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“My brother was over there. We have a bunch of buildings in India. He’s talking about how the Indian people are wonderful people and he enjoys his experience over there and everything else, and then all of a sudden you have this,” he said. “These are the first people that say the First Amendment should be protected until you say something they disagree with and then they try to shred you to pieces.”
Notwithstanding the fact that the press, which is protected by the First Amendment, has been a frequent target of the Trump administration, the president’s critics have good reason to be skeptical of Donald Jr.’s India trip. The eldest Trump son, who took over daily operations of the family’s namesake business, the Trump Organization, with his brother after their father became president, was originally scheduled to deliver remarks at a global business summit on Friday. Modi was also scheduled to speak at the event.
The speech, titled “Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: The New Era of Cooperation,” was met with criticism by those who claimed a foreign policy address would infringe on the supposed firewall between the White House and the Trump Organization and could be seen as influence-peddling.
To stem the fallout, the president’s son changed the title of his remarks at the last minute to a “Fireside Chat,” according to the summit website. Critics remained unconvinced.
“There’s nothing we don’t get attacked for,” Eric added on Thursday. “[Democrats] do everything they can to undermine our family because it’s the only move they have. … We take [any conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflict] seriously. We take that exercise so seriously.”
Shortly before President Trump took office in January 2017, he handed over control of the Trump Organization to his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, pledging that the two sides would not interfere with one another’s business. However that barrier has been breached multiple times over the past year, as the Trump hotels and resorts benefit from foreign governments and domestic groups hoping to curry favor with the president or buy access to his family.
Donald Jr.’s visit to India was plagued with controversy from the start: In addition to criticism over his planned remarks, the president’s eldest son came under fire after it was reported that the Trump Organization had sold at least $15 million-worth of real estate in a single day by offering potential buyers a dinner with Donald Jr. himself if they purchased a condominium in the new Trump Towers project in Gurgaon.
“The optics of the visit do not look good from Washington — or from any other place for that matter,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told the Washington Post. He admitted that, despite those concerns, there was “not much that can be done about it.”
“This is the new normal,” he said.
Both Eric and Donald Jr. have insisted that the Trump presidency is bad for business. In April 2017, Eric claimed the the Trump Organization “would be doing 30 deals across the globe” were his father not the president; and as recently as Tuesday, Donald Jr. told English language Indian channel CNBC-TV18 that the organization was missing out on lucrative deals because of the family’s promise to keep business and White House matters separate.
“A few years ago, I said it would become our largest (market) because I really believed in the market. … I think it will continue to be the same when I am able to get back in the market and focus on the business side, on new deals again in the future, once my father is out of office,” he said.
He added: “India, it has been an important market for us, but again there is this opportunity cost of the deals that we are not able to do that don’t get discussed. We could do so many more but we are not doing those.”
Over the past year, the Trump Organization has raked in hundreds of thousands in profits from foreign governments staying or booking events at its various hotels. According Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government ethics watchdog organization, political and special interest groups have spent approximately $1.2 million at the president’s properties since his inauguration.