The State Department’s inspector general is turning up dozens and maybe hundreds of gifts that have gone missing from a vault where they are kept on the heels of a media report suggesting that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may have improperly taken an expensive bottle of whiskey.
Two U.S. officials who are familiar with the investigation “said that dozens, or potentially hundreds, of individual gifts that were previously in the State Department’s gift vault are now nowhere to be found,” Politico reported.
The officials went on to say that a majority of the gifts that have gone missing were gifts that the United States was planning to give other countries, several of which bore former President Donald Trump’s insignia, the outlet added.
Politico’s report follows a story published earlier in the week by The New York Times which said the State Department was currently investigating a missing $5,800 bottle of whiskey gifted to Pompeo by the Japanese government.
According to a public filing by the State Department released on Wednesday, several items were gifted to public officials including Trump and Pompeo throughout 2019.
The department said that the Japanese government gave Pompeo the expensive bottle of whiskey on June 24, 2019. But William Burck, a lawyer for the former CIA director and chief U.S. diplomat, told The Hill that Pompeo did not know anything about the gifted whiskey.
“Mr. Pompeo has no recollection of receiving the bottle of whiskey and does not have any knowledge of what happened to it,” Burck told the outlet. “He is also unaware of any inquiry into its whereabouts. He has no idea what the disposition was of this bottle of whiskey.”
Pompeo himself addressed the issue this week, telling Fox News he had “no idea” where the bottle was and suggested the State Department’s “incompetence” was to blame.
“The great case of the missing whisky bottle,” Pompeo said. “Look, a couple of facts. I have no idea. I assume it wasn’t ever touched. It never got to me. I have no idea how the State Department lost this thing, although I saw enormous incompetence at the State Department during my time there. Had it been a case of Diet Coke, I’d have been all over it. I had no idea that they were this was missing, that there was an investigation I hear about this is this is all just crazy talk … I’m happy to if they want to give me a holler and help me give me a holler, I’m happy to try and help them find it.”
In its report, the Times said that Pompeo was in Saudi Arabia at the time the Japanese sent the bottle of whiskey.
U.S. officials are permitted to keep gifts valued at $390 or less but they must purchase other gifts if they want to keep them.
Regarding Pompeo, the Times noted that there is no indication that Pompeo “ever received the gift.” However, based on the report, it’s possible that the State Department’s investigation into the missing bottle of whiskey could be motivated by politics.
“The department also took the unusual step of noting that the whereabouts of the whiskey is unknown. Similar filings over the past two decades make no mention of any similar investigations,” Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt noted.
“The State Department provided no other details about the bottle or the investigation. According to two people briefed on the matter, the U.S. government was never paid for the bottle and the department has asked its inspector general to determine what happened to it,” he added.
The Constitution prohibits currently serving U.S. officials from accepting any foreign gifts, and that anything given by a foreign government is considered U.S. property. Schmidt notes that the framers of the Constitution included that provision to prevent foreign leaders from exerting any undue, potentially harmful, influence of American leaders and officials. Any government official who is caught accepting foreign gifts can be prosecuted under civil statutes or impeached and removed from office if they are still in government service.
“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,” Stanley M. Brand, a criminal defense lawyer and ethics expert who is also a former top lawyer for the House, told the Times. “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.”
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