When Donald Trump Jr. spoke to graduates of the American University in Dubai earlier this week, days before his father’s trip to the Gulf, he joined the ranks of such distinguished commencement speakers as former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, while raising fresh questions about potential conflicts of interest as he and his brother, Eric Trump, run the Trump Organization while their father is president.
The university traditionally pays its commencement speakers generously. Bill Clinton earned $150,000 in 2002, according to Hillary Clinton’s Senate ethics reports. Another former commencement speaker told CBS News they received $60,000 plus roundtrip airfare. Asked how much Trump Jr. was paid, the Trump Organization would only tell CBS News that he has “been participating in business-related speaking engagements for over a decade.”
The speech is an example of concerns that the president’s sons’ business dealings – and now paid speeches — could at least present the appearance of a conflict of interest.
While the university is private, sources tell CBS News that Dubai helped found and holds a continuing stake in the school. In his remarks, Trump Jr. thanked and conferred degrees alongside Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the son of Dubai’s ruler. The school’s website says that its founding in 1995 “would not have been possible without the commitment and support from the outset” of the Ruler of Dubai. “To this day, High Highness continues his unlimited support for higher education in general and to the university in particular.”
Trump Jr.’s appearance now raises the ethical question of whether a foreign government could be trying to curry favor with the president through his family – a concern Trump Jr. himself used during the presidential campaign to attack the Clintons. In an October 2016 tweet, he hammered the former president for giving a “six-figure” speech while Hillary Clinton was secretary of State,…