Trump’s gifts from foreign leaders under scrutiny from House Oversight committee

by | Nov 4, 2022 | Golf Clubs

Comment on this story


Congressional investigators are looking for dozens of pricey mementos gifted to former president Donald Trump and his family members by foreign governments, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The House Oversight Committee has asked for help in locating the items from the National Archives, which is among the agencies charged with keeping presidential gifts, two of the people said.

The eclectic list ranges from golf clubs given to Trump by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to a 2018 World Cup soccer ball gifted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a gold-plated collar of Horus, the falcon-headed ancient Egyptian god, given by Egypt’s president, a large painting of Trump from the president of El Salvador, and a $6,400 collar of King Abdulaziz al Saud, a ceremonial honor from Saudi Arabia, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

The dozens of gifts are worth in sum an estimated $50,000 or more, according to people familiar with the request. The committee has asked the archives to check whether the gifts are among the items transferred there from the White House at the end of Trump’s presidency as required by law, according to those familiar with the request. The committee is also seeking records from Trump’s team about its record keeping, a Trump adviser said.

It’s not clear why the Oversight Committee made the request for these specific items; a spokesperson for the committee declined to comment except to say the investigation is ongoing. The Archives also declined to comment, and it’s unclear where the agency is in the process of trying to find these items and which gifts, if any, on the list were properly accounted for.

A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment, nor did officials who handled gifts in the Trump administration.

The search comes as Trump faces an FBI investigation into whether he and his aides mishandled classified documents after agents recovered troves of records from his Mar-a-Lago home, including highly sensitive intelligence regarding China and Iran.

This summer, the Oversight committee launched its own probe at the behest of its chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), into whether Trump properly followed the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act, a 1966 law that prohibits presidents and other government officials from personally keeping gifts from foreigners worth more than $415 unless they pay for them.

Under the law, there is no specific criminal penalty for someone who improperly retains the gifts. But ethics experts said that criminal action might be warranted depending on the circumstances.

“If you have a very valuable item that you are obligated by law to turn over to the federal government and you fail to do that, I don’t know that would preclude a criminal action — we’ve just never seen it done,” said Virginia Canter, the chief ethics counsel at CREW, an ethics watchdog organization.

The Oversight committee’s request to the Archives includes items that were received by Trump’s family members but may not have been properly reported to the State Department; items that were documented as potentially in the Trumps’ executive residence in the White House, the West Wing, or other locations — for example, Trump Tower or Mar-a-Lago — near the end of the administration; and items likely gifted in 2020, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The New York Times first reported that the State Department could not fully account for gifts Trump and other White House officials received during their final year in office because the White House failed to provide the agency with a list of what officials received from foreign governments before leaving office. The office was in “total disarray,” according to testimony taken by the committee.

Now, Maloney’s committee is seeking to account for specific gifts. The sprawling request sent to the Archives also includes an antique framed signed photo of Queen Elizabeth II; a marble slab commemorating the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem; dresses from Oman; a bust of Mahatma Gandhi; an Afghan rug; a crystal ball; and various pieces of jewelry including diamond and gold earrings, according to the person familiar with the request.

Typically, the White House Gifts Unit records all domestic and foreign gifts received by the president and first family, along with the valuation of the gift, according to a 2012 congressional research report. If an official wishes to retain a gift, they have the option of paying full value.

Otherwise, the gift is transferred to the Archives where it is stored for presidential libraries. Gifts meant for the White House residence are referred to the Department of the Interior’s park service, and gifts that are not sent to the Archives or not retained by the president are sent to the General Services Administration.

Separately, the Office of Protocol in the State Department publishes an annual list of all gifts from a foreign government to a federal employee. According to information provided by the State Department, Trump “failed to comply with the law governing foreign gift reporting” during his final year in office, Maloney wrote in June in a letter requesting a review of Trump’s gifts to acting archivist Debra Steidel Wall.

“The Department of State noted that during the Trump Administration, the Office of the Chief of Protocol failed to request a listing of foreign gifts received in 2020 from the White House. The Department is no longer able to obtain the required records,” Maloney wrote to the Archives.

In that letter, Maloney requested all documents and information pertaining to gifts received by Trump or his family members from the last year of the Trump administration — including the location and value of the gifts, the identity of the donor, and any reporting of gifts — along with all communications between the Archives and Trump, his family members and White House staff related to foreign gifts.

The failure to account for gifts is part of a pattern of the Trump administration’s record keeping practices.

Numerous items identified as “gifts” were seized by the FBI during their search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and residence in August. It’s unclear whether the seized gifts were given to Trump by foreign governments during his time in office and improperly transferred to Mar-a-Lago.

The Washington Post has previously reported that White House officials in the waning days of the Trump presidency raised concerns that some of the gifts Trump had received as president still remained in the White House rather than being properly turned over to the National Archives.

Trump took a number of items with him when he left the White House, including a model of the Air Force One redesign he had proposed and a mini model of one of the black border-wall slats that featured an engraved plaque on top, The Post has previously reported. When the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes of materials from Mar-a-Lago in January, they recovered correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that Trump had once described as “love letters.”

“This president was very much into holding onto things,” said a former Trump White House staffer who was involved with record management and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. “Mementos and gifts are a big thing with him. Throughout his whole life he has created mementos.”

Former White House chief of staff John Kelly said that when he worked for Trump, the president always wanted to keep gifts from foreign leaders. Kelly said that while he instructed staff to follow the process of recording gifts from foreign leaders, when Trump was given the opportunity to buy the gifts, he was adamantly against paying for them.

“He said, ‘They gave me these, these are my gifts,’ ” said Kelly, recounting his conversation with Trump. “But I’d say, ‘No sir, they gave these to the president of the United States. You have to look at that as an official gift from a country.’ He would be totally against that. He was adamant that they were his gifts and he couldn’t understood why he couldn’t keep these gifts.”

“I never remember him buying anything,” Kelly added.

original article can be found here