Protocol was never high up on the priority list during Donald Trump’s presidency. Little wonder then that gift exchanges with foreign leaders were, quite simply, a mess. A process that is usually highly regulated and has little in the way of inconsistencies or questions devolved into a scattershot effort that often didn’t follow established procedures and had little-to-no oversight, according to the New York Times. We had already received hints that this was the case a few months ago when it was revealed the State Department was trying to locate a bottle of whisky valued at $5,800 that the Japanese government gave former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Politico later reported the State Department’s inspector general was investigating some 20 types of missing gifts. But it turns out there are a lot more questions surrounding gifts during the Trump administration, according to the extensive Times report.
One of the questions that are being investigated is whether Trump appointees swiped gift bags worth thousands of dollars that were meant for foreign leaders at the Group of 7 summit that had been planned for Camp David in 2020. The summit was ultimately canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic and the bags that contained dozens of items went into storage. But then at the end of the Trump administration, career officers saw Trump political appointees leave with the gift bags. That’s when they started looking at things more closely and realized dozens of gifts given to Trump officials during the administration were missing. To illustrate how highly unusual this is, the Times notes that there were no unaccounted gifts during either the George W. Bush or Barack Obama administrations.
There are also lots of questions surrounding some of the dozens of gifts the Trump administration received during Trump’s first presidential trip to Saudi Arabia. Among the gifts were three robes made of tiger and cheetah fur as well as a dagger with a handle that seemed to be made of ivory. The Trump administration didn’t just fail to report many of the gifts until the last minute, they also held on to them even though a White House lawyer warned against it because they likely amounted to violations of the Endangered Species Act. Turns out though the furs were dyed and not real. It’s unclear whether the Saudis knew the furs were fake.
There are also questions surrounding two gold-tone place-card holders that former Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen, took from Singapore’s prime minister and didn’t pay for. A lawyer for the Pence family insists a White House ethics lawyer said she could keep them because they were worth less than what was then the minimum threshold for reporting gifts, $390 (the number has since increased to $415). But officials dispute the characterization because she received numerous gifts during the meeting and the total exceeded the threshold.