State Dept. Report on Missing Gifts Finds Poor Oversight
The State Department’s inspector general has found in a new report that tens of thousands of dollars in gifts purchased with government funds during the Trump administration to give to foreign leaders and others given to senior officials are unaccounted for.
The conclusions of the inspector general’s report were in line with previous disclosures about sloppy record keeping and poor oversight by the Trump administration when it came to gifts given to and received from foreign leaders.
The report said that the missing gifts include a 30-year-old Suntory Hibiki bottle of Japanese whiskey given to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo worth $5,800; a 22-karat gold commemorative coin valued at $560 given to another State Department official, and monogrammed commemorative pewter trays, marble trinket boxes, and leather portfolios. The monogrammed items were created to give away at a Group of 7 summit meeting in 2020 that was canceled because of the pandemic.
While gifts are often given to senior officials by their counterparts, protocol officers and aides often quickly take possession of them. Mr. Pompeo, who is considering running for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2024, has said that he never received the bottle of whiskey and has no idea what happened to it.
The report only focused on the State Department and did not reach conclusions about the handling of gifts given to White House officials, including President Donald J. Trump and his top aides.
The New York Times reported last month that in January, as Trump political appointees at the State Department were cleaning out their offices, career officers saw their departing colleagues leave the building with the gift bags meant for foreign leaders at the summit.
The inspector general’s report did not mention that incident, but it said that after political appointees resigned from government at the end of the Trump administration, career officials took over leadership of the Office of the Chief of Protocol, the part of the State Department that oversees the exchanging of gifts with foreign leaders.
“On January 20, the Acting Assistant Chief of Protocol for Visits entered the gift vault accompanied by other career officials and found it in a state of disarray,” the report said, referring to the large room in the State Department where gifts are typically held.
The career officials “began an inventory” and discovered many of the missing gifts, the report said.
Despite determining that thousands of dollars in gifts were unaccounted for, the inspector general did not conclude whether those gifts were stolen or simply lost.
The inspector general said that record keeping was poor, there was no security camera footage to review and that many individuals who had access to the vault have left government. For example, the inspector general said, between August 2020 and January, the vault was entered over 3,000 times by at least 77 people.
The inspector general said that it had no power to “compel” the cooperation of former government employees to answer questions.
The State Department said it embraced the findings.
“We take seriously our responsibility for safeguarding certain gifts knowing that these gifts are the property of the American people and we are going to carefully study the I.G. report and appreciate the I.G.’s work on this,” said Ned Price, the State Department’s spokesman.
The inspector general proposed measures that the Office of the Chief of Protocol should adopt to prevent similar problems, like more rigorous property management system and enhancing the security of the vault.