An almost $6,000 bottle of whisky has gone missing. The State Department is trying to figure out the location of a bottle of whisky valued at $5,800 that the Japanese government gave former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In a notice in the federal register, the State Department says there’s an “ongoing inquiry” into the whereabouts of the booze. The investigation was detailed as part of the annual listing of the gifts that foreign governments and their leaders gave to U.S. officials.
There’s no evidence Pompeo actually ever touched the whisky. He was traveling in Saudi Arabia when Japanese officials gave the bottle to the State Department on June 24, 2019. But Pompeo also traveled to Japan that same month for a Group of 20 summit. Pompeo’s lawyer said the former secretary of state has no clue about the whisky’s whereabouts. The former secretary of state “has no recollection of receiving the bottle of whiskey and does not have any knowledge of what happened to it. He is also unaware of any inquiry into its whereabouts,” William Burck said. “He has no idea what the disposition was of this bottle of whiskey.”
U.S. officials are allowed to keep any gifts valued at less than $390 but must pay the government for anything over that price. Sources tell the New York Times the government was never paid for the bottle and that’s why the State Department’s inspector general is looking into the matter. The missing gift is an extremely rare instance in which there appear to be legitimate questions about the whereabouts of a gift form a foreign country. Stanley M. Brand, a criminal defense lawyer and ethics expert, told the Times he couldn’t recall another instance over the past four decades. “Like a lot of what occurred in the Trump era, this arises from a mix of rules and regulations that were previously obscure and rarely invoked,” Brand said. “I have been doing ethics stuff for 40 years and this has never been on the top of the list or on the list of problems.”
Pompeo has been embroiled in a series of ethics scandals that could come back to haunt him if he decides to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. An inspector general report earlier this year said Pompeo violated ethics rules when he and his wife asked government employees to do personal tasks for them.