The government has a specific, detailed process for handling gifts to administration officials from other nations. During President Trump's term, it often was ignored, the New York Times reports, starting with the requirement to log in and report the gifts. So the State Department’s inspector general is still looking for a bottle of Japanese whiskey valued at $5,800; former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it never got to him. The official also is hunting gift bags, intended for G7 leaders and paid for by the US, valued at thousands of dollars that went missing when a summit was canceled. Officials suspect Trump appointees helped themselves.
No one has accused Trump or his wife, Melania, of taking anything they weren't allowed to take. But ethics experts and others still see problems. "Whether this was indifference, sloppiness, or the Great Train Robbery, it shows such a cavalier attitude to the law and the regular process of government," says Stanley Brand, an ethics expert and former House lawyer. The principle has been around since the nation's beginnings; the founders worried that European nobles would influence Americans with presents, so they put a clause about it in the Constitution. The current laws also are intended to protect administrations from unfounded accusations.
When the Biden administration took office, 20 types of gifts were missing from the State Department's vault, per Politico. Records from the administrations of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush list no gifts to officials or presidential families unaccounted for. In a statement, the State Department said nothing about the Trump administration's actions but said it is "investigating the whereabouts of gifts that are unaccounted for and the circumstances that led to their disappearance." Some gifts were sent to the wrong agency. Gifts to former Secretary Steve Mnuchin were still at the Treasury Department, though they were supposed to have been turned over to the GSA.
US officials can keep gifts valued at under at $415. And there have been gifts worth less than they appear to be. The Saudi royal family gave Trump three robes lined with fur, which a White House lawyer said probably would violate the Endangered Species Act. The State Department did not report the gifts. But there was a twist. "Wildlife inspectors and special agents determined the linings of the robes were dyed to mimic tiger and cheetah patterns and were not comprised of protected species," the Interior Department said, per the Times. No Saudi said anything about it, but a US-Saudi expert said the fake gift surely was embarrassing for the royal family. (Read more Trump administration stories.)