New Delhi: Former US President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania and his family famously visited India in late February 2020, welcomed by a large-scale event called ‘Namaste Trump’ in Gujarat. The two-day trip also coincided with the Delhi riots, in which over 50 people were killed.
However, a former Trump administration aide, Stephanie Grisham, has claimed in a new tell-all memoir that Trump and Melania were not keen on the visit over Covid-19 fears. It was the ex-president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner (married to Ivanka Trump) who eventually convinced the president otherwise.
According to Grisham’s memoir, I’ll Take Your Questions Now: My Time in the Trump White House, ahead of the visit, Trump said in the Oval Office that he didn’t “really want to go”.
“It is a long trip for not even two days, and we’re dealing with Covid. I’ll explain to [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi that it isn’t a good time, and I will come later, in my second term,” Grisham quoted Trump as saying, in an excerpt published in US-based political magazine Politico.
His comments came in a meeting after former First Lady Melania Trump and senior White House staff expressed concerns about travelling to India at a time when the novel coronavirus was slowly spreading across the globe.
“As the date grew near, most of the senior staff, and the first lady, started to have misgivings about the travel because of the virus. For whatever reason, Jared Kushner was insistent that we go, and as he was the “real” chief of staff, that carried weight,” the excerpt said.
The ex-US president was bent on cancelling the trip, Grisham added. But Kushner, who served as a senior advisor to Trump during his presidency, convinced a wary Trump by saying: “OK, but you should talk to Modi personally to tell him.”
Grisham added: “This showed just how well Jared had his father-in-law’s number because, like the rest of us, he knew that the president had a hard time saying no to someone and that Modi would likely talk him into going.”
Grisham served in the Trump White House from 2017 to 2021. She was press secretary for the administration briefly, but famously never held a traditional White House press briefing during her tenure. She later served as Melania’s chief of staff, but resigned in January this year following the insurrection at the US Capitol.
‘Don’t know why India trip was so important to Jared’
Kushner, who has been married to Trump’s eldest daughter since 2009, served as White House senior advisor though the extent of his role was never fully clear.
He helped broker the Abraham Accords between the UAE and Israel in September 2020, enjoyed “walk-in privileges” in the Oval Office and was later in charge of Trump’s re-election campaign too.
Grisham claimed she didn’t understand why Kushner was keen on the visit to India.
“To this day I don’t know why that trip was so important to Jared, or what, if anything, he got out of it. Jared and his team also ended up negotiating with the Indian government directly over what our security assets and personnel would be on the ground — negotiations that were normally reserved for the Secret Service,” she wrote.
Trump wasn’t keen on banning travel from China
Grisham claimed in the memoir that during a meeting with Modi in India, Trump mentioned the 34 people who were suffering from Covid in quarantine on military ships at the time, complaining that the news was affecting the stock market.
However, Trump had issued an executive order on 31 January, blocking entry to the US from anyone who has been in China in the last 14 days. The order wasn’t applicable to US citizens or their families.
Grisham wrote that Trump was not keen on this decision to ban travel.
“Contrary to what he would say later, he didn’t immediately want to ban travel to China. And he asked officials in the White House if we were making ‘too big a deal out of this’,” Grisham wrote.