Trump Failed to Follow Law on Foreign Gifts, House Democrats Say

Francisco Antonio López Benavides, who painted a portrait of former president Donald Trump, shows a detail of the painting on his smartphone at his home studio in Chinameca, El Salvador, on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Daniele Volpe/The New York Times)
Francisco Antonio López Benavides, who painted a portrait of former president Donald Trump, shows a detail of the painting on his smartphone at his home studio in Chinameca, El Salvador, on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Daniele Volpe/The New York Times)

Several gifts given by foreign countries to Donald Trump during his presidency are unaccounted for in government records, according to a report released Friday by Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, which detailed ways in which the Trump White House had failed to follow the law in how it handled gifts.

The missing items included a $3,040 driver and $460 putter given to Trump by Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan at the time, and “a larger-than-life-sized painting” of Trump given to him by El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, according to the report.

A box decorated in silver patterns that a union activist in Egypt had given 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 — that had been given to Trump; his wife, Melania; Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump. Those gifts were turned over to the government and ultimately accounted for in records but were never publicly reported, as required by law.

Each government department and agency is required to submit a list to the State Department of gifts over $415 its officials received from foreign governments. Officials can keep those gifts if they are willing to reimburse the government their appraised value. The measure is intended to ensure that foreign governments do not gain undue influence over U.S. officials. (A different set of rules governs gifts from domestic sources.)

Before or shortly after leaving office, departing administrations typically provide the State Department with a list of the gifts they received in their final year to ensure they have followed the law. The Trump White House failed to do this, alarming government watchdogs and Democrats.

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

The report by the House Democrats included nearly two dozen pages of previously undisclosed White House emails and documents that raised a series of still-unanswered questions. They include the whereabouts of a piece of ornate jewelry given to Trump by the Saudis and whether Trump broke the law when he kept a computer given to him by Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook.

The investigation, which was prompted by disclosures about how the Trump White House mishandled gifts by The New York Times and the State Department, concluded “that the failures to disclose gifts from foreign governments were much broader than previously known and extended throughout the Trump administration.”

The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, said that Democratic investigators on the committee, which is now controlled by the Republican majority in the House, would continue to try to track what had happened to the gifts and understand how Trump, his family and his White House apparently failed to follow the law governing how they should be handled.

“It’s so much in Donald Trump’s character to violate the entire regime governing gifts from foreign states,” Raskin said. He added that “Trump is exactly someone who the framers had in mind” when they included the emoluments clauses in the Constitution, which bars any federal office holder from accepting any type of gift from a foreign state without Congress’ consent to prevent U.S. policy from being dictated by foreigners.

The report also raised issues involving a domestic gift. It cited an email exchange from Jan. 15, 2021, in which the Trump White House’s top ethics lawyer, Scott Gast, expressed concerns that a Mac Pro computer from Cook, which was valued at $5,999, had been intended as a gift to the U.S. government, not Trump. Gifts that are given to the government are considered government property and cannot be taken by officials.

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

A year later, in Trump’s financial disclosure forms, he listed the computer among the gifts he had received and kept. The episode in some ways echoed a dispute involving former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton after they left the White House in 2001. They were accused of taking a sofa, a rug and chairs from the White House that had been given to the government, not them. The Clintons ultimately returned the furnishings.

A spreadsheet compiled by White House aides in the final days of the Trump administration listed gifts that Trump needed to decide whether he wanted to keep. Among the items that he had already decided to accept and publicly disclose was a gold pendant necklace that he had received during a trip to Saudi Arabia in 2017.

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

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