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Hundreds of gifts to US may have been stolen from State Dept. vault

The Harry S Truman Building in Washington DC. Headquarters of the US Department of State. (Loren/Wikimedia Commons)
August 09, 2021

At least 20 gift items, and possibly hundreds more, may have been taken from a U.S. State Department vault according to two U.S. officials who spoke with Politico on Friday.

Among the missing items from the State Department vault was a bottle of Japanese rye whiskey valued at $5,800 which was gifted to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. A State Department report lists the bottle of whiskey among dozens of gifts stored in its vault during the Trump administration. While other items are accounted for, the whiskey bottle’s disposition is listed as “unknown.”

The State Department inspector general is investigating what happened to at least dozens of gifts, according to Politico.

The Japanese whiskey bottle was one item received by the State Department that was supposed to be accounted for. Most of the missing items were gifts the U.S. was intending to give other countries and many bore Donald Trump’s insignia, according to the two U.S. officials.

U.S. officials may keep gifts with a value less than $390, but they are required to purchase any gifts over that amount. According to its records, the U.S. government was never paid for the $5,800 bottle of whiskey and the State Department inspector general has been tasked with determining what happened to it.

William Burck, Pompeo’s lawyer, told The Hill that his client did not recall ever receiving the high-priced whiskey bottle.

“Mr. Pompeo has no recollection of receiving the bottle of whiskey and does not have any knowledge of what happened to it,” Burck said. “He is also unaware of any inquiry into its whereabouts. He has no idea what the disposition was of this bottle of whiskey.” 

The whiskey bottle was received by the State Department on June 24, 2019. State Department records show Pompeo was traveling in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates at the time.

According to the New York Times, Trump administration officials strayed from government record-keeping and ethics guidelines, and paperwork filed for gifts was sometimes incomplete.

Stanley M. Brand, a criminal defense lawyer and government ethics expert, told the New York Times that in his four decades working in Washington, he had not encountered an instance in which an official was alleged to have improperly accepted a gift from a foreign country.

“Like a lot of what occurred in the Trump era, this arises from a mix of rules and regulations that were previously obscure and rarely invoked,” Brand said. “I have been doing ethics stuff for 40 years and this has never been on the top of the list or on the list of problems.”