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Records of foreign gifts given to Trump and Pence in 2020 are missing, State Department says

Business Insider logo Business Insider 4/9/2022 ashoaib@insider.com (Alia Shoaib)
Former President Donald Trump, pictured with his wife Melania and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad on February 24, 2020. Mandel Ngan/ AFP via Getty Images © Mandel Ngan/ AFP via Getty Images Former President Donald Trump, pictured with his wife Melania and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad on February 24, 2020. Mandel Ngan/ AFP via Getty Images
  • The Trump White House did not provide information about foreign gifts received in 2020, the State Department said.
  • The department said it could not compile a complete list of foreign gifts because of the missing data.
  • The Trump administration has a history of flouting rules about gifts from foreign governments.

The Trump administration did not provide information about gifts from foreign governments in 2020 received by former President Donald Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence, and other White House officials, the State Department said on Friday.

As a result, the department said it could not compile a complete and accurate accounting of gifts received by Trump, his family, and other officials during his final year in office.

Under federal law, government employees are required to disclose any gifts from foreign governments with a value of over $415 to prevent bribery and undue influence.

The Trump administration's failure to provide the information is the latest example of its tendency to flout rules and norms.

"It's flagrant, and it looks terrible," Richard W. Painter, the former top ethics lawyer for George W. Bush's administration, told The New York Times. "Either it was really stupid or really corrupt."

Although foreign trips were limited in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the paper noted that Trump visited Switzerland and India, where he received gifts including a bust of Gandhi, a marble sculpture of Gandhi's famous "three monkeys" metaphor, and a spinning wheel.

The White House was also visited by foreign leaders from at least a dozen countries.

The State Department's Office of Protocol made the revelation about the missing data in the footnotes of a partial list of gifts received by US officials in 2020, published on Friday. While run by a Trump appointee, the department said its Office of the Chief of Protocol did not submit the request for data, and the White House did not provide it.

The State Department said it has since attempted to collect the missing information from current authoritative sources but was told that "potentially relevant records" are not available because of "access rules for retired records."

It also noted that there had generally been a "lack of adequate record-keeping pertaining to diplomatic gifts" during Trump's time in office.

Ethics expert Richard W. Painter told The New York Times that by failing to disclose the gifts, the Trump White House violated the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution, which makes it illegal to take gifts from foreigners without permission from Congress. 

However, the clause has no criminal or civil penalties, which he said makes it extremely difficult to hold former officials accountable.

Trump officials had a history of poor record-keeping. 

Federal authorities are investigating whether Trump aides improperly removed 15 boxes of classified documents and gifts from the White House to Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

During his chaotic move out of the White House, Trump's aides reportedly worried about official gifts given to Trump in office inadvertently being mixed in with his personal belongings.

It was also previously revealed that dozens of items went missing from the State Department's gift vault during the transition from the Trump to Biden administrations, including a $5,800 bottle of whisky given to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by the Japanese government.

Trump officials also kept robes made of tiger and cheetah fur and an ivory dagger gifted by the Saudi royal family, despite a White House lawyer determining that the items most likely violated the Endangered Species Act. The furs were fake, it was eventually revealed.

Trump aides were also investigated by the State Department over allegations that they stole goodie bags meant for foreign dignitaries attending the 2020 G7 summit that was canceled due to the pandemic.

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