A recent notice in the Federal Register list dozens of gifts from foreign governments to federal employees in 2019, all with the same reason for acceptance: "Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and US government." But the annual accounting of gifts contains one mystery: The whereabouts of a $5,800 bottle of whiskey the Japanese government gave to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in June 2019. A lawyer for Pompeo tells the New York Times that Pompeo does not recall receiving the whiskey, doesn't know where it is, and was not aware that there is an "ongoing enquiry" into the matter, as the Federal Register filing states. Gifts given to federal employees by other governments are considered government property. If they are worth more than $390, the recipient is required to either purchase them by paying their value to the Treasury or donate them to a government entity.
The Trump administration was often criticized for flouting ethics guidelines and ethics expert Stanley Brand, the House's former top lawyer, tells the Times that he can't recall another case where there were suspicions officials improperly kept a foreign gift. "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," he says. "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." The AP reports that according to the Federal Register filing, the gifts former President Trump received from foreign governments in 2019 included three photos or portraits of himself worth more than $10,000 combined. The gifts—presented by the leaders of Australia, Egypt, and Vietnam—were turned over to the National Archives, along with other gifts received by the then-president and his wife Melania. (Read more Mike Pompeo stories.)