From French Wine to Uzbek Coins: White House, Hill See Array of Diplomatic Gifts

Posted June 23, 2003 at 12:54pm

From silk scarves to silver coins, Members of Congress raked in a slew of gifts and tokens from foreign dignitaries last year, according to State Department records disclosed in today’s Federal Register.

The 68-page list made public annually by the department’s Office of Protocol provides an intriguing look at the gifts given to President Bush, Vice President Cheney, first lady Laura Bush, the Bush daughters, other Cabinet members and federal employees.

Bush received everything from a $2,800 rug from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to six bottles of Chateau La Lagune Haut-Medoc wine from French President Jacques Chirac.

That’s not to say that the president and other government officials actually got to enjoy their gifts, however.

The bottles of French wine, for instance, were “handled pursuant to Secret Service policy,” according to the Federal Register, and most other gifts were turned over to the appropriate repositories.

Elected officials and government employees are bound by strict ethics rules and not allowed to keep the gifts in their own possession. The gifts are accepted because “nonacceptance would cause donor embarrassment,” according to the official “report of tangible gifts” from the State Department.

Most gifts — such as a set of 12 commemorative Uzbekistan silver coins in a wood presentation box that Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) received from Uzbekistan’s president, Islam Karimov — are deposited with the appropriate government entity, in this case the Secretary of the Senate.

If lawmakers are especially enamored with gifts they receive, they may get permission to display them in their offices.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), for instance, displays a red silk and wool rug he received from Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, on Feb. 11, 2002, in Room 509 of the Hart Senate Office Building.

The wooden chalice Daschle received from the emir of Qatar and the sterling silverware he was given by Karimov, meanwhile, were deposited with the Secretary of the Senate.

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D), who was once showered with such gifts during her years as first lady, received just one item in the name of diplomacy last year: a Hermes scarf valued at $275 from Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg. She won’t be wearing it, though — it’s also in the possession of the Secretary of the Senate.

Artwork is a popular gift among foreign dignitaries.

Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) each received portraits of an Ethiopian monk from Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, while Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) was given a needlepoint picture of a bowl and flowers by Do Van Tai, the chairman of the Foreign Committee of the National Assembly of Vietnam.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) received a wicker basket filled with cookies, nuts, candies, cheese and “other edibles” from Bader Omar Al-Dafa, the ambassador of Qatar to the United States. The basket was donated to a local charity, the House of Ruth.

Rugs also were popular items of appreciation from abroad.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) received two — one from the president of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and another from the president of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev.

House Members had a smaller take.

Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) was given a Bokhara rug valued at $300 by Afghanistan’s Karzai. The rug is on display in McIntyre’s district office in Wilmington, N.C.

Former Rep. Bob Stump (R-Ariz.), who died Friday, received a silver-plated coffee server valued at $400 from Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa A-Thani, the emir of Qatar.

Travel expenses provided by foreign donors or foreign governments are also disclosed in this annual report.

In June 2002, for instance, several House Members — including Reps. Cass Ballenger (R-N.C.), Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) — and several Congressional aides enjoyed a two-night stay aboard the M.V. Galapagos Explorer II — a spacious luxury ship with 52 cabins — for fisheries study and discussions with officials with the government of Ecuador.