At nighttime in a remote region of western Mongolia, Donald Trump Jr. used a rifle with a laser sight to shoot and kill an endangered argali, the largest living sheep. Local hunting guides fanned the lights of their cellphones across the ground to search for where the ram-like creature fell. Trump Jr. asked them not to dismember the animal on the spot, but instead to carry it away on an aluminum sheet to keep its fur and horns intact.
ProPublica described the August excursion in a report that relies on records and interviews to allege that the president’s son received special treatment from the Mongolian government just weeks after U.S. and Mongolian officials met at the White House. The Trump administration has sought to strengthen ties with Mongolia, a longtime defense partner that lies between China and Russia, to prepare for Beijing’s growing global influence.
In Mongolia, permits to shoot and kill an argali, which are prized for their tusks and meat, are determined largely by politics, connections and money, experts told ProPublica. Trump Jr. received a permit after his hunt – which ProPublica reported is a rare occurrence.
Amgalanbaatar Sukh, a scientist who heads an argali research center in Mongolia, told ProPublica that high-level government contacts often decide who gets hunting permits in ways that are opaque to almost everyone else. The government authorized 86 permits to be issued in this year’s hunting season, which runs from July 1 to Sept. 30, ProPublica reported.
Trump Jr. also met privately with the Mongolian president, Khaltmaagiin Battulga, during the trip that he took with his son, according to ProPublica. Andy Surabian, a spokesperson for Trump Jr., did not answer a question about what the pair discussed.
Surabian said in a statement that Trump Jr. bought the trip to Mongolia at a National Rifle Association auction in 2015, before his father announced his candidacy for president. Trump Jr. used his own funds to pay for the trip, flew commercial and got the required permits through a third-party outfitter, Surabian said. He said neither U.S. nor Mongolian officials helped to organize Trump Jr.’s trip.
Jandos Kontorbai Ahat, a member of the Mongolian president’s political party, arranged the hunting trip, ProPublica reported. He told the news organization that the trophy hunting system in Mongolia is “very political.”
Ahat said the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia’s defense attache accompanied Trump Jr. and the other hunters. Hunting guides and scouts told ProPublica that five American bodyguards also protected Trump Jr. Surabian said the Secret Service, and not Trump Jr., determines what security protocols are necessary.
Trump Jr. documented his trip in Instagram posts this fall in which he stood in front of a yurt, rode a horse and held a live eagle. Ahat told ProPublica that Trump Jr. was “an upstanding person” who treated others with respect. The local guides said Trump Jr.’s hunting skills impressed them.
Trump Jr. and his brother Eric Trump are avid big-game hunters who have killed animals on African safaris before. During then-candidate Trump’s presidential campaign, photos resurfaced of his sons posing with an elephant, a buffalo and a leopard they had killed on a safari. In February, a hunting advocacy and lobbying website raffled off a five-day elk hunt in Utah with Trump Jr.