This Is What the President Gets in Foreign Gifts
Lots of Americans are spending this Black Friday scrambling to get good deals on holiday gifts, but few of them can expect the haul President Barack Obama gets.
The U.S. government's official Federal Register just published its annual list of gifts to federal employees from foreign governments for 2014, and it reveals that being president has its privileges. Or maybe not so much, considering that ethics restrictions require federal officials to deposit the loot for which they don't want to personally pay at the National Archives or another arm of the federal government. According to the records, Obama appears to be taking a pass on all of the foreign offerings.
The late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz lavished the president and his family with six gifts with more than $1.3 million. They included a men's watch for the president, which was estimated to cost more than $18,000, and a "diamond and emerald jewelry set including earrings, necklace, ring, brooch, and wristwatch" for Obama's school-age daughters, Sasha and Malia, that came to $80,000.
Various Chinese officials were also generous: President Xi Jinping gave Obama two computer tablets during a time his government is believed to have been carrying out large-scale hacks of American computer systems, including the database of federal employees.
Many gifts are traditional formal offerings—fountain pens, vases, cognac, and the like. Others demonstrate patriotic pride, including French wines or traditional garb of a given country. In the past, though, Obama has also received whackier fare, including 20 baseball caps with his face on them, as reported by Yahoo.
Some reflected the gift-givers: Prince William gave Obama a signed and framed portrait of himself. Estimated value: $888. Xi's wife, Peng Liyuan, a former folk singer, gave "audio and video recordings" of herself performing to first lady Michelle Obama. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan gave the president a book entitled, Goodluck Jonathan—Champion for Women.
The justification for accepting each gift, provided in the Register, is that "non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government."
The Obamas don't appear to have bought any of the gifts, meaning they went to the National Archives and Records Administration or, if perishable, were "handled pursuant to United States Secret Service Policy." (It's not clear exactly what that means, but U.S. government ethics guidelines say foodstuffs and similar items "may, with approval, be given to charity, shared with the office, or destroyed.")
Other government officials get gifts too. Gifts to CIA Director John O. Brennan had gift-givers names removed as they might "affect United States intelligence sources or methods." He appears to have kept many of the gifts, including a "small decorative sword," "for official use."
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is running a long-shot presidential campaign, received a 4' x 6' rug worth $4,000 from the attorney general of Qatar, as did his close friend and colleague, Arizona Senator John McCain, who ran against Obama in 2008. Both men deposited their rugs with the secretary of the Senate.
Another Republican presidential candidate, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and some of his staff members received "lodging and transportation via patrolled SUV" from the government of Guatemala for an unknown value in August 2014. Paul, an ophthalmologist, did medical work in the country, according to accounts.
Toluse Olorunnipa contributed reporting.