The Trump administration failed to properly handle foreign gifts, several of which were unaccounted for at the end of Trump’s term, The New York Times reported on Monday.
The White House is understandably required to report anything gifted from foreign dignitaries in order to avoid suspicion of under-the-table dealing or other impropriety. The Trump administration didn’t seem to care. The Times notes that when then-President Trump visited Saudi Arabia just months after he took office, Saudi royals presented the administration with a number of lavish gifts, including three robes that appeared to be made with fur from two endangered species — the white tiger and the cheetah — as well as a dagger with a handle that appeared to be made of ivory. Both gifts violated the Endangered Species Act, according to a White House lawyer, but the administration did not disclose them until the last full day of the administration, January 19th, 2021, nearly four years after they were received.
It was then that Interior Department inspectors realized the gifts were not made with real fur from protected species. “Wildlife inspectors and special agents determined the linings of the robes were dyed to mimic tiger and cheetah patterns and were not comprised of protected species,” Tyler Cherry, a spokesman for the Interior Department, told the Times.
The Times notes that it’s unusual for an administration to report missing gifts. Both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations had zero missing gifts at the ends of their terms.
Missing items at the end of the Trump administration include:
- A Persian silk carpet given to then-Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, found in storage at the Treasury Department, that should have gone to the General Services Administration for disposal.
- A bottle of whisky given to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that is still missing.
- A 22-karat gold coin and porcelain bowl from Vietnam gifted to former National Security Advisor John Bolton, which Bolton denies taking.
The Times also notes that former Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, took two gold-toned place card holders from Singapore’s prime minister and did not pay for them. A Pence family lawyer told the paper that a White House ethics lawyer told the former second lady she could keep them because they were worth less than the minimum threshold for reporting gifts at that time: $390. But according to documents the White House sent to the State Department, the items should have been disclosed because she accepted multiple gifts during that meeting with a foreign official, including a framed print and purse, worth $1200. That total exceeds the reporting threshold, and per federal guidelines, should have been reported. Pence maintains the gifts were received at separate meetings and says she did not keep the purse or framed print.
Of course, this is far from the Trump administration’s most egregious violation of government protocols and norms, but it’s another example of how the former president and others in his White House acted as if the rules don’t apply to them.
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