Trump's 'no foreign deals' pledge came with an asterisk

Donald Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. speaks on the second day of the 2016 Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena, July 19, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Reynolds/EPA)
Donald Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. speaks on the second day of the 2016 Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena, July 19, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio.

At a press conference during the presidential transition period last year, a lawyer representing Donald Trump's business assured the public that "no new foreign deals will be made whatsoever" during the Republican's presidency.

And yet, here we are, reading reports like these in the Washington Post.

The president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., is making what has been dubbed an unofficial visit to India to promote his family's real estate projects. But he's also planning to deliver a foreign policy speech on Indo-Pacific relations at an event with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.Beginning Tuesday, Trump Jr. will have a full schedule of meet-and-greets with investors and business leaders throughout India, where the Trump family has real estate projects -- Mumbai, the New Delhi suburb of Gurgaon, the western city of Pune and the eastern city of Kolkata.

Jordan Libowitz, the communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), told the Post, "Trump's company is literally selling access to the president's son overseas. For many people wanting to impact American policy in the region, the cost of a condo is a small price to pay to lobby one of the people closest to the president, far away from watchful eyes."

That assessment seems more than fair. The Post's reporting describes a dynamic in which Indian media outlets are telling the public, "Trump is here -- Are You Invited?" Prospective customers are invited to pay about $38,000 to have access to the American president's son.

It's during this same business trip that Trump Jr. will speak on foreign policy at a summit that will also feature remarks from India's prime minister.

Eric Trump, who's also helping lead the president's private-sector enterprise -- from which the president has refused to divest -- told the Post last year that "the company and policy and government are completely separated. We have built an unbelievable wall in between the two."

If by "unbelievable," the president's son meant literally unable to be believed, then sure, the firewall is unbelievable.

While it seems hard to imagine how anyone could seriously defend this ethical mess, I'm still curious: whatever happened to that "no new foreign deals" commitment Trump made in January 2016. Was it simply abandoned?

Apparently not. The Washington Post had a separate report along these lines in October.

The Trump Organization vowed early on there would be "no new foreign deals" during Trump's tenure as president; these two projects in India were inked before his election.But the high-profile launches demonstrate that the pledge comes with an asterisk — agreements made years ago can move forward or be revitalized, such as the Trumps' 2007 deal to build a luxury beachfront resort in the Dominican Republic that may be revived, according to an Associated Press report.The president did not divest his assets after he was elected and instead placed his business empire into a trust controlled by sons Don Jr. and Eric, who has traveled to Uruguay and accompanied Don Jr. to introduce a Trump-branded luxury golf course in Dubai and a hotel in Vancouver.

Twelve years ago, with Republicans controlling the White House, the Senate, and the House, Democrats had a fair amount of success running against the GOP's "culture of corruption."

The party may want to consider dusting off that playbook.