The department said it could not fully account for gifts received by officials as a result, with the latest example to emerge in recent months showing how the Trump administration’s failure to adhere to laws and standards regarding day-to-day operations government now makes it harder to determine if something inappropriate has happened.
“It’s blatant and it looks terrible,” said Richard W Painter, the former chief ethics counsel for the George W Bush administration. “Either it was really stupid or really corrupt.”
Under federal law, every government department and agency is legally required to submit to the State Department a list of gifts over $415 that its officials have received from foreign governments. The measure is intended to ensure that foreign governments do not exert undue influence on US officials.
Departing White Houses typically provide the State Department with a list of gifts officials receive before or shortly after leaving office to ensure they have complied with the law.
But in the list of gifts for 2020 that the State Department released on Friday, there are no gifts for White House officials. Although the pandemic has curtailed some of Trump’s travels, Trump has visited Switzerland and India – where he received gifts including a bust of Gandhi, a sculpture of Gandhi’s famous “three monkeys” metaphor and a spinning wheel. Top foreign leaders from at least a dozen countries have visited the White House.
In a highly unusual revelation, the department said its office of chief of protocol, which was headed by a Trump appointee until Jan. 20, 2021, failed before Trump left office to ask the White House for a list of gifts he received. , and that the Trump White House left office without providing one.
The department said it attempted to collect the information about the gifts Trump White House officials received, but failed to establish an accounting.
“As a result, the data necessary to fully compile a comprehensive list for 2020 is not available,” the State Department said in a footnote to its list of gifts officials received that year.
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to an email seeking comment.
In February, it was revealed that classified documents and gifts from the White House had been improperly transferred to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, a matter that federal authorities are currently in the preliminary stages of investigating. investigation. At that time, the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol learned that significant periods were missing from the White House call records from the day of the attack.
Ethics expert Painter said that by not disclosing the gifts, the Trump White House violated the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause, which makes it illegal to accept gifts from strangers without the authorization of Congress. But Painter said that because the emoluments clause is toothless and has no criminal or civil penalties, it is extremely difficult to hold a former official accountable.
Even before the latest disclosure, the Trump administration had a history of sloppy record keeping and poor oversight of gifts given and received by administration officials from foreign leaders.
The State Department’s inspector general reported in November that tens of thousands of dollars in gifts given to Trump administration officials were missing. They included a bottle of 30-year-old Suntory Hibiki Japanese whiskey given to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, worth $5,800, and a commemorative 22-karat gold coin worth $560 given to another official. from the State Department.
The Inspector General also found that there were missing monogrammed pewter memorial trays, marble trinket boxes and leather wallets made with departmental funds to be given to foreign leaders during the Group of 7 summit in 2020 which was canceled due to the pandemic.
The New York Times reported in October that Trump administration officials had saved white tiger and cheetah furs that the Saudi government had donated to the White House during a trip to the kingdom in 2017, even though the Endangered Species Act had made possession illegal. When the furs were finally handed over to the Home Office, tests revealed they were fake.
The Times also reported that government officials questioned whether Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, had mistakenly taken two gold card holders from the Prime Minister of Singapore without paying for them. The Trump administration, The Times reported, also did not disclose that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, received two swords and a dagger from the Saudis. A month after Trump left office, Kushner paid $47,920 for them along with three other gifts.
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