Every president of the United States, when he visits a state, receives gifts. The members of its administration also. It is a tradition which, however, involves strict regulations, so that there is no abuse.
A little historical reminder is in order. Lest American officials let themselves be “bought” by lavish gifts, originally coming from members of the European nobility, a clause had been written into the Constitution. It stipulated that an official could not accept anything of value from a stranger. But in 1966, the law will change and Congress will adapt the regulations somewhat, an official being able to keep gifts of low value for himself, ie a maximum of $ 415. Subsequent amendments defined gifts as government property and created a standardized process for how officials were to treat them. For greater transparency, provisions require that administrations disclose each year the gifts received by US officials, and their estimated value.
Except that, here, this Monday, the New York Times questions the catastrophic management of Donald Trump concerning these “gifts” during his mandate. Our American colleagues first cite the example of Donald Trump’s first official trip as president. He had opted for Saudi Arabia, a highly symbolic choice since the two countries did not maintain very cordial relations previously. To thank him for his “openness” and his coming, the Saudi royal family had offered the American president and his entourage dozens of gifts. The New York Times cites three dresses in white tiger and cheetah fur, and a dagger whose handle appeared to be ivory.
The catch? Not only did these gifts most likely violate endangered species law, the Trump administration kept them by failing to report them as gifts received from a foreign government. Finally, on the last day of Donald Trump’s mandate and before Joe Biden took office, the White House handed them over … to bad service, namely the “General Services Administration” rather than the “US Fish and Wildlife” Service”. Finally, this summer, they seized the said gifts. But that’s not all, because after in-depth analyzes, a laughable observation was established: the furs, coming from a family rich in oil and worth billions of dollars, were in reality … fake. “The linings of the dresses had been dyed to mimic tiger and cheetah designs and they were not made of protected species“, said Tyler Cherry, a spokesman for the Department of the Interior, which oversees the US Fish and Wildlife Service. As for officials of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, they declined to comment. .
Personalities close to the president in turmoil
This case is not the only one that worries. As the New York Times reports, the Inspector General of the State Department is in fact investigating allegations that people named by Donald Trump left with bags of gifts worth several thousand dollars intended for foreign leaders at the Group of Seven summit scheduled for Camp David in 2020, but which was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The bags contained dozens of items purchased with public funds, including leather wallets, pewter trays and marble jewelry boxes bearing the presidential seal or signatures of Trump and his wife Melania.
The Inspector General is still trying to find out the whereabouts of a $ 5,800 bottle of Japanese whiskey offered to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the latter claiming to have never received it. Also not found: a 22-karat gold coin and a porcelain bowl from Vietnam intended for John R. Bolton, Donald Trump’s third national security adviser. He sent the New York Times an email exchange with the White House showing that he never took these gifts and did not want them.
Another personality appears in the turmoil. This is the former Second Lady Karen Pence, who allegedly (wrongly?) Took two gold business card holders from the Prime Minister of Singapore without paying for them. Contacted by the New York Times, the lawyer for the Pence family explains that his client thought he could keep them because their value had been estimated at less than 390 dollars, which was the minimum threshold allowed at the time. But according to information then provided by the White House to the State Department, Karen Pence received the card holders as well as a framed engraving and sleeve for a total of $ 1,200. On the side of the lawyer for the Pence family, it is insisted that the gifts had been given at various meetings and that Karen Pence had refused to keep the engraving and the cover.
Finally, the Trump administration never revealed that Jared Kushner, the then president’s son-in-law and a top White House advisor, had received two swords and a dagger from the Saudis, although he paid $ 47,920 for these and three other gifts in February after leaving office.
While there is currently no evidence that Donald Trump and his wife have accepted gifts to which they were not entitled, ethics experts point to broader issues of his governance. “Whether it is indifference, negligence or organized theft, in any case it shows a cavalier attitude towards the law and the normal process of government.“says Stanley M. Brand, criminal defense lawyer, ethics expert and former senior lawyer for the House of Representatives.
On the side of the State Department, we said in a press release that we would investigate “on the whereabouts of the gifts of which we have no news and the circumstances which led to their disappearance.“