Trump hasn’t obeyed the foreign gifts law, House Democrats say

Then-President Donald Trump on October 26, 2020 in the White House. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Several gifts from abroad given to Donald Trump during his presidency are not accounted for in government records, according to a report released Friday by Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, which detailed how the Trump White House failed to do so to follow the law in dealing with gifts.

The missing items included a $3,040 driver and $460 putter given to Trump by Shinzo Abe, then Prime Minister of Japan, and “a larger than life painting” of Trump given to him by the President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, according to the report.

A silver patterned box that a union activist in Egypt gave to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is also missing, the report said. The box was valued at $450.

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The Trump White House, the report said, failed to properly document more than 100 gifts valued at more than $250,000 — including about $48,000 from Saudi Arabia — given to Trump; his wife Melania; Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump. These gifts were given to the government and eventually entered into records but never publicly reported as required by law.

Each government department and agency must provide the State Department with a list of gifts over $415 that its officials have received from foreign governments. Officials can keep these gifts if they are willing to reimburse the government for their appraised value. The measure is intended to ensure that foreign governments do not gain undue influence over US officials. (Different rules apply to gifts from domestic sources.)

Before or shortly after leaving office, departing administrations typically submit to the State Department a list of gifts received during their senior year to ensure they have obeyed the law. The Trump White House has not done so, alarming government watchdogs and Democrats.

A spokesman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The House Democrats’ report contained nearly two dozen pages of previously unreleased White House emails and documents that raised a number of unanswered questions. They include the whereabouts of an ornate piece of jewelry given to Trump by the Saudis and whether Trump broke the law by keeping a computer given to him by Apple CEO Tim Cook.

The investigation, prompted by revelations of how the Trump White House abused New York Times and State Department gifts, concluded “that the failures to disclose gifts from foreign governments were far more widespread than previously known and extended to the entire Trump administration. ”

The committee’s top Democrat, Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, said Democratic investigators on the committee, now controlled by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, would continue to try to trace what happened to the gifts and understand how Trump, his family and his White House have apparently failed to comply with the law governing how they should be treated.

“It’s so inherent in Donald Trump’s character to violate the entire regime that governs gifts from foreign states,” Raskin said. He added that “Trump is exactly someone the drafters had in mind” when they included the emoluments clauses in the constitution that prohibit any federal official from accepting gifts of any kind from a foreign state without congressional approval in order to Prevent US policy from being dictated by foreigners.

The report also raised questions related to a domestic gift. It cited an email exchange dated Jan. 15, 2021, in which Scott Gast, Trump’s lead White House ethics attorney, raised concerns that a $5,999 Mac Pro computer from Cook was given away as a gift to the USA was meant to be government, not Trump. Gifts given to the government are considered government property and cannot be accepted by officials.

In response, a Trump aide, Desiree Thompson Sayle, said, “Well, we can’t find it.”

A year later, he listed the computer on Trump’s financial disclosure forms among gifts he received and kept. The episode was somewhat reminiscent of a falling out between former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton after they left the White House in 2001. They were accused of taking a sofa, rug and chairs from the White House that had been given to the government, not them. The Clintons eventually returned the facility.

A chart compiled by White House staffers in the final days of the Trump administration listed gifts Trump needed to decide whether to keep. Among the items he had already accepted and made publicly available was a gold pendant necklace that he received during a trip to Saudi Arabia in 2017.

The necklace, which was valued at $6,400, was “on a moving truck to Mar-a-Lago,” according to the table. There is no evidence Trump paid for the necklace. In response to questions from the committee, the National Archives said it believed it had possession of the necklace but had not searched its storage to find it.

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