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White tiger and cheetah furs: Trump gift exchange mess

The Saudi royal family showered Donald Trump and his entourage on their first foreign trip as president with dozens of gifts, including three robes made of white tiger and cheetah fur and a dagger with a handle that appears to be ivory.

After that the one who was younger went right.

A White House attorney determined that the possession of furs and daggers likely violated the Endangered Species Act, but the Trump administration held on to them and failed to reveal them as gifts received from a foreign government.

On the last full day of Trump’s presidency, the White House handed them over to the General Services Administration — the wrong agency — instead of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which confiscated the gifts this summer.

A surprise happened at that time.

The furs of a billion-dollar oil-rich family were fake.

“Wildlife inspectors and special agents determined that the lining of the clothing was dyed to mimic the patterns of the tiger and cheetah and did not include protected species,” said Tyler Cherry, a spokesman for the Interior Department overseeing the US Fish and Wildlife Service. was.”

Saudi Embassy officials in Washington declined to comment.

Fars’ story is an example of how gift exchanges between the United States and foreign leaders — a highly regulated process intended to protect the administration from questions of unfairness — have sometimes become dangerous during the Trump administration. Developed in huts.

State Department inspector general is investigating allegations that Trump’s political appointees carried away with gift bags worth thousands of dollars to foreign leaders at the Group of 7 summit planned for Camp David in Maryland in 2020. was cancelled. coronavirus global pandemic. The bags contained dozens of items purchased from government funds, including leather portfolios, paver trays and marble trinket boxes bearing the president’s seal or signatures of Trump and his wife Melania.

Inspector General continues to trace the whereabouts of a $5,800 bottle of Japanese whiskey given to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – Pompeo said he never found it – and a 22-carat gold coin given to another State Department official .

There is also a question whether former Second Lady Karen Pence had wrongfully taken two gold-toned place-card holders from Singapore’s prime minister without paying.

Furthermore, the Trump administration never disclosed that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top White House adviser, received two swords and a dagger from the Saudis, although he paid $47,920 for them along with three other gifts in February . He left the office.

To be sure, Trump’s handling of foreign gifts is not at the top of his critics’ list of administrative offenses. And there’s no evidence that he or Melania took any gifts they didn’t deserve.

But ethics experts say the problems reflect larger issues with Trump’s presidency.

“Whether it was apathy, sloppiness or the Great Train Robbery, it reflects such a reckless attitude towards the law and the routine process of the government,” said Stanley Brand, criminal defense attorney, ethics expert and former top House of Representatives attorney. .

The State Department declined to address the specifics of the way the gifts were handled by the Trump administration, but said in a statement that it “takes seriously its role in reporting the disposition of certain gifts received by US government employees”. and that it was “investigating the whereabouts of gifts” that are unaccounted for and the circumstances that led to their disappearance.”

This article is based on public documents produced by the federal government under the Freedom of Information Act and others, interviews with current and former government officials, and responses to recorded questions from several government departments and agencies. The documents include an index of gifts Trump and his family received in Saudi Arabia in 2017 that the National Archives provided to two Democratic senators, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Details about missing gifts and other widespread problems with them have not been previously reported. Politico reported in August that the State Department’s inspector general was investigating about 20 types of missing gifts.

The nation’s founders were so concerned that European nobility could co-opt American officials with lavish gifts that they included a clause in the constitution that made it illegal for an official to take anything from a foreigner.

In 1966, Congress passed a law detailing how a US official could only keep gifts of a relatively minimum value, now capped at $415. Later amendments defined gifts as government property and created a standardized procedure for the way officials dealt with them.

To add transparency, the provisions require the administration to annually disclose gifts made by foreigners to US officials and their appraised value. There are no criminal penalties in the laws, although legal experts say anyone who takes government property can be prosecuted for theft.

The Trump administration’s gift problems stem from the president’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017, whose leaders were pleased that Trump had chosen the kingdom for his first foreign trip and embraced them after years of tension with the Obama administration. Were were The Saudis have a history of giving lavish gifts to US presidents, and Trump and his allies received a generous reward.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed shortly after Trump returned home, the State Department disclosed a list of 82 gifts from Saudis to Trump administration officials on a May 2017 visit. Gifts ranged from simple ones like sandals and scarves to expensive furs and daggers.

Nine of the most expensive gifts — three furs, three swords and three daggers — were sent to the White House Gift Unit for evaluation and evaluation, but none on the Trump State Department’s legally required annual filings for foreign gifts. did not appear. review of government documents

As of January 19, the White House had sent nine gifts to the General Services Administration, according to an agency statement.

Later the new York Times Inquired last summer about why the agency had items in violation of the Endangered Species Act, the General Services Administration alerted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which in July began collecting furs at a government warehouse in Springfield. Sent an agent, Virginia. The agent also took the dagger that a Qatari official had given to the Trump White House in Saudi Arabia.

Inspectors examined the items, discovering more problems as they determined the fur was dyed and counterfeit. The Interior Department said the handle of the dagger “probably contains some sort of tooth or bone” – material from ivory tusks – “although additional laboratory analysis would be needed to identify the species.”

It is unclear whether the Saudis knew about the fake fur or were duped by a supplier, but Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an expert on Saudi-US relations, described the gifts as “extremely embarrassing”.

“The two most important things to them are that they are above the actors of the world, and being rich and showing off their wealth,” he said.

A spokesman for Trump did not return multiple messages seeking comment.

As Trump political appointees to the State Department’s Office of Protocol packed their bags in January, career officials saw their late aides leave with gift bags for foreign leaders at the G-7 summit last year, the inspector general has learned. The bag was kept in a large room at the State Department known as the Vault.

Once the Biden administration took over, career executives began to investigate the accounting of foreign gifts without looking over the shoulders of Trump officials.

At the time, Carrier officials found that several gift bags were missing, as were more than a dozen additional gifts given to Trump officials. The numbers were unusual: Government documents from the Obama and George W. Bush administrations do not show unaccounted gifts given to White House officials, cabinet members, or members of formerly families.

In the months that followed, the Times unearthed several gifts, including a bottle of perfume and a Persian silk carpet, that Qataris had given to former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. (Their gifts were to be sent to the General Services Administration for disposal, but they sat in storage at the Treasury Department.)

There remains unaccounted for a whiskey bottle for Pompeo, as does a 22-carat gold coin and a porcelain bowl for John Bolton, Trump’s third national security adviser from Vietnam, who told the Times with the Trump White House. Shown in an email exchange that he never showed up and didn’t want it.

A mystery has been solved: When the Times reached out to Karen Pence, a lawyer for the family said that the White House ethics attorney told her she could keep him because she was assessed, because she had put on a gold-toned place- card holders. less than the minimum limit, which was $390 at the time.

But according to information provided by the Trump White House to the State Department, they should have paid for the place-card holders. Under federal guidelines, if a U.S. official is presented with multiple gifts in a meeting with a foreign official, the U.S. must pay for them if the total exceeds the minimum threshold. The State Department said the Trump White House reported that Karen Pence had received card holders with a framed print and a clutch purse, totaling $1,200.

Pence family attorney Richard Cullen said the State Department was wrong—that the gifts were given at various meetings, and that Karen Pence refused to keep the print and clutch. Responding to Cullen’s clarification, a State Department spokesperson said it stood by its characterization of Karen Pence’s gifts.

This article originally appeared in the new York Times.

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