Swords, Coats, a $24,000 Dagger: The Trumps Failed to Report 117 Foreign Gifts
Donald and Melania Trump admire a gift from India’s prime minister in 2020.Alex Brandon/AP
Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.Donald Trump and his family members accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts from foreign leaders as they travelled the world and welcomed dignitaries to the White House. But according to a new report from Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, the former president and his family failed to properly report many of those gifts, including many from leaders of countries with high-stakes and sometimes contentious relations with the United States—like Chinese President Xi Jinping, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
While presidents—and sometimes their families—are regularly offered gifts in the course of diplomacy, they aren’t allowed to keep any worth more than $450. And everything has to be reported to the State Department and properly accounted for by the federal government. In total, according to Friday’s report, internal White House records indicate the Trumps failed to report 117 gifts worth at least $291,000.
Trump is widely know as a man who is extremely susceptible to flattery, and he and his family received a lot of gifts that would hold little appeal to anyone else. The president of El Salvador, for example, sent a life-size portrait of Trump. Shinzo Abe, then prime minister of Japan, presented Trump with high-end clubs when the two golfed together.
But no matter how personal seeming the gifts were, US law requires them to be reported. They may then be purchased back from the government if a president or his family wants to keep them. Nearly all of the unreported gifts Trump and his family received have been accounted for—some are with the National Archives, some have been sold to the Trumps, and some have been sold at auction. But not all have been accounted for—like the portrait of Trump, which government records indicate may have been moved to one of his Florida properties.
The report does raise the possibility that there are other gifts for which absolutely no records exist—gifts that could not, therefore, be tracked. National Archives and Records Administration documents show that the Trump administration’s interest in reporting gifts seemed to tail off as his term went on. In 2017, for instance, the White House reported a total of 74 foreign gifts to Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump, or her husband Jared Kushner. Every year after that, the number of reported foreign gifts declined. In 2020, the four family members reported having received just one foreign gift.
In terms of gifts that weren’t reported, the committee uncovered that the most prolific foreign gifter was the Saudi Arabian government and various members of the Saudi royal family, which together gave 16 gifts worth at least $45,000 that went unrecorded. They included a $24,000 dagger that bin Salman gave to Kushner. Kushner also received several swords, and the Trump family received clothing from the Saudis—like a wool and fur winter coat given to Melania.