Foreign Gifts to White House Staff
Outgoing Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was showered with gifts from Middle Eastern leaders in recent years. In sum, her diplomatic trips resulted in more than $300,000 worth of jewelry.
Too bad she can't keep any of it.
Rice scored a $165,000 ruby and diamond necklace, earrings, bracelet and ring, along with a $170,000 flower petal motif necklace, from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during visits in 2005 and 2007. She also nabbed an emerald and diamond ring, bracelet, necklace and earrings, made of 19-carat white gold, from Jordan's King Abdullah. Its price tag: $147,000.
Both items were turned over to the General Services Administration, as was nearly everything else on the 54-page list released today in a Federal Register notice. Gifts are usually stored in government archives or with the GSA in accordance with federal law, which bars officials from accepting personal presents in almost all circumstances. They are then shipped off to the National Archives or given to charitable organizations.
There are some exceptions. A century-old olive tree from Walid Joumblatt, chairman of Lebanon's Progressive Socialist Party, was transplanted to the Israeli embassy compound in Washington. Other items, such as rugs, pictures, clocks and artwork, are put on display in government offices. And some items can be purchased by the recipients; For example, Lt. Col. Scott H. Remington of the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations liked his $437 Longines watch from Iraq, so he bought it.
President Bush got two books and a jazz CD from the Sultan of Brunei, "Stayed Tuned" by Joe Garner and "1,001 Reasons to Love America," by Hubert Pedroli and Mary Tiegreen, along with "Jazz for Quiet Moments" by Greg Howard. Value: $70. He also got a Husqvarna 335Rx brush cutter with "comfort grip handles" from Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. Its estimated value was $570.
Bush also received a $4,500 electric harp with a speakerphone (Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet); a three-volume set of "Mount Lebanon" by Col. Charles Henry Churchill, valued at $5,760 (Saad Hariri, member of the National Assembly of Lebanon); a $5,000 bronze statue of a horse, held in a blue leather box (French President Nicolas Sarkozy); a dozen Moser crystal champagne flutes valued at $3,060 (Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus); a $3,000 gold replica of the Temple of Heaven, accented with multicolored Swarovski crystals with five figurines of the 2008 Olympic mascots (Yang Jiechi, China's minister of foregin affairs); and two abstract paintings by the wife of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, valued at $3,000.
Vice President Dick Cheney even got in on the action, nabbing a $7,500 clock trimmed in malachite, sterling silver and gold vermeil from the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was given a M900 machine gun used by anti-narcotics troops by Colombia's chief of defense and a 9mm machine gun, with a removable magazine, by Russia's chief of staff.
Top White House officials weren't the only ones getting in on the gift giving.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah gave deputy national security adviser Elliot Abrams a $1,435 Concord Mariner watch and Emily Harding, the director for Iran at the National Security Council, and Anita B. McBride, chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush, each got a $2,800 sterling silver Tiffany quartz watch from the Saudi Arabian kingdom.
Frances F. Townsend, the assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counteterrorism, got a $1,500 gilded silver dhow from the interior minister of Bahrain. Defense Secretary Robert Gates got a baseball cap signed by New York Yankees pitcher Hideki Matsui from Japan's defense minister.
All of the gifts weren't top-shelf items, however. Joseph Wood, the deputy assistant to Cheney for national security affairs, was given a $30 Adidas gym bag from the foreign affairs minister of Azerbaijan. Kenneth J. Krieg, the under secretary of defense, acquisition, technology and logistics, received a $165 Fila ski jacket and pants from Italy's defense chief.
And some gifts caused confusion for the State Department, which catalogues the items. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey B. Kohler, executive officer of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, got a $2,800 men's Concord Impressario watch from Maj. Gen. Duaij Salman Al Khalifa. Problem is the Office of Protocol couldn't figure out what country Al Khalifa came from. (A simple Google search shows he's from Bahrain.)
By Derek Kravitz |
December 22, 2008; 6:15 PM ET
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