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Cover Story July 20th, 2006



Gifts For The Presidents

Panda in the National Zoo in DC

Richard Nixon received two giant pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, from the Peoples Republic of China in 1972. They were given as a token of friendship in response to President Nixon's goodwill trip to China in that same year.
"The Day the Wall Came Down"

The artist is Veryl Goodnight of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The total weight of the sculpture is 7 tons. It is 12 feet tall and 18 feet wide. The monument's composition is five horses, one stallion and four mares, running through the rubble of the collapsed Berlin Wall. The "American" casting is permanently displayed in the central courtyard of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, adjacent to the campus of Texas A&M University.
Head Sculpture
This stone head sculpture was presented to President Carter by the Gabonese Republic President El Hadj Omar Bongo in October 1977. This carved stone head is similar to the masks created by Gabonese tribal artists, containing raised diamond-shaped marks.

by lyle e davis

Presidents have been receiving presents from the public since at least 1801, when citizens gave Thomas Jefferson a 1,235-pound cheese, a First Gift of one big cheese to another.

The exchange of gifts among heads of state is a centuries-old tradition, and remains an important part of modern-day international relations.

Many of the gifts wind up in various presidential libraries but because of the large number of gifts, most wind up in the National Archives. Some are disposed of “consistent with Secret Service policy.” That means they are probably destroyed . . . cigars, foodstuffs, even fine wines . . . the Secret Service doesn’t take any chances on poison or any other nefarious ingredients being mixed in with seemingly harmless products.

Porcelain Lipizzaner: Gift given to Mrs. Nixon from His Excellency Dr. Bruno Kreisky, Chancellor of Austria, and Mrs. Kreisky in May, 1972.

Upon occasion one wonders if the President and/or First Lady did not have to suppress laughter or at least a smile at some of the gifts.

On April 30, 2004, President George W. Bush, for example, was given a protective black leather rodeo vest by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. The vest was embroidered with American and Canadian flags on the front. Value was $290. It was placed in the National Archives.

On June 5, 2004, President Bush was given by French President Jacques Chirac two hardcover books, 1850 editions, of “Democratie en Amerique Government:Tome Un et Deux.” (Democracy in America: Volumes 1 and 2),'' by Alexis de Tocqueville ... Value--$1500. This gift, listed as a Foreign Collectible, was also stored in the National Archives.

One has to wonder what the head of state was thinking when he presented to President George W. Bush two DVDs: “Singing in the Rain” starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds and “To Kill a Mockingbird,'' starring Gregory Peck. This gift was received from Sultan and Yang DiPertuan of Brunei Darussalam on June 22, 2004. Value, $50. One would think the President could have gotten either or both at his local video store. The DVD’s, nonetheless, are stored in the Foreign Archives Department.

Even stranger, perhaps, is a 10'
braided brown leather whip with ornate multicolored leather detailing on a carved wooden handle, received on June 22, 2004, value $125. Sent to the Foreign Archives. This gift was given by Peter Medgyessy, Prime Minister of the Republic of Hungary. (In fairness, the Minister gave several other gifts, rather nice ones, in fact. This particular gift just seemed somewhat incongruous.)

All gifts given by or to Foreign Heads of State are catalogued, values assigned, disposition noted, and reason(s) for acceptance stipulated. Typically, the reason is . . . “Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment for the donor and the U.S.”

You may track the more recent gifts yourself by going on the Internet, and clicking on the url:


Upon arrival, type in “gifts” in the Search Window. Then on “Gifts to Federal Employees from Foreign Government Sources.” You’ll find a list of gifts to the President as well as various Secretaries who head up Cabinet Departments, Senators, Congressmen and even employees of various departments.

Foreign Official Gifts

Even though heads of state have traditionally exchanged gifts as expressions of goodwill, the Constitution (Article I, Section 9) prohibits anyone in the US Government from receiving a personal gift from a foreign head of state without the consent of Congress. Today, the handling of gifts from a foreign official to any Federal Government employee, including the President, is largely governed by the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act of 1966 and further legislation passed in 1977. Congress has allowed Federal employees to retain any gift from a foreign government, as long as the total US retail value of the gifts presented at one occasion does not exceed an amount established by the General Services Administration (GSA).

Foreign official gifts over this “minimal value” are considered gifts to the people of the United States, which the recipient must purchase from GSA, at fair market value, in order to retain. The White House Gift Unit sees to the disposition of foreign official gifts that the President and First Lady do not retain.

Domestic Gifts

Any gift not from a foreign government official is considered a domestic gift. Domestic gifts to the President and/or First Lady may be disposed of in any manner the President and First Lady wish. If they want to keep a domestic gift, they do not have to purchase it from the Government.

Reasons for Not Retaining Gifts

The President and First Lady keep for themselves only a small percentage of the gifts that they receive. Reasons for this include the following:

The requirement to pay for certain foreign official gifts.

The White House Gift Unit constantly receives items from the general public, and it is impossible for the President and First Lady to ever see most of them.

To protect the President and his family, the Secret Service requires destruction of food and drink gifts, combustible items which may release fumes, and colognes and other substances that are applied to the skin.

Any gifts retained by the President and First Lady that are not from a close relative – including foreign official gifts that they keep – may have to be declared in an annual disclosure report to the Office of Government Ethics.

The President and First Lady may have to pay federal taxes on the appraised value of gifts that they keep.

A Major Gift
Having been invaded and tyrannized by Iraq, Kuwait knew to what extent it owed its reclaimed freedom to George Bush. The small Arab country went to great lengths to show him its gratitude during his first visit there on April 14, 1993 - two years after the end of the Gulf War. Feted as guests of the Emir, the presidential party stayed in his Bayan palace. In addition, the former U.S. President was awarded the nation's highest civilian honor - the Mubarak, the great medal, never before bestowed on an American. "Mere words cannot express how proud I feel to be with you on the hallowed ground of Kuwait," President Bush told the Kuwait Parliament. "Thank you for honoring me and my country." Also presented to President Bush was "The Gate of Kuwait." Made of teak, studded with domed nails, and sometimes elaborately carved, such doors were once the primary access to the walled homes of Kuwait's leading citizens. Over one hundred years old, the door is framed with plates bearing the names of American servicemen who died in the Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. The inscription below the door cites the old Kuwaiti proverb: "When a man gives you the key to his home, it means you are the best and most valuable friend to him; when a man gives you the door of his home it means that you are one of his family." A gift of great significance, this door symbolizes George Bush's place in Kuwait history as well as his place in Kuwaiti hearts.

What happens to gifts that the President and First Lady don’t keep for themselves?

Most foreign official gifts which the President and First Lady do not retain for themselves are transferred to the National Archives by the Gift Unit, and become part of a presidential library museum collection. Most domestic gifts that the President and First Lady do not keep are given to charitable organizations or other non-Government recipients by the Gift Unit, or transferred to the National Archives for the future presidential library museum.

During the Reagan Administration, the maximum retainable value was raised, in steps, from $100 to $180.
Today, the amount that requires reporting is any gift in excess of $250.

When it comes to gift-giving . . what do you give the man who has everything?

In 2004, President George W. Bush accepted more than a dozen gifts valued at nearly $27,000, according to recently filed financial-disclosure forms. The most generous present: a $14,000 custom-made shotgun from Roy Weatherby, a California gun manufacturer.

Leisure-time features heavily among the gifts. Bush, an avid biking fan, also accepted a $2,700 mountain bike from Trek Bicycle Corp., as well as more than $500 in biking accessories from the company. Nike gave the president a set of warm-ups valued at $305. Bush also received several thousand dollars in fishing equipment, including a rod, three caps and fishing bait valued at more than $200 from former Commerce Secretary Don Evans. A longtime Bush pal, Evans also gave the president a $149 sweater and a hardcover book called “Longhorn,” priced at $240.
But it wasn’t just the president on the receiving end. First Lady Laura Bush received a $1,300 gold bracelet from close friends Tom and Andi Bernstein, who own New York City’s Chelsea Piers, and $400 in salad plates from Tricia Lott, wife of Sen. Trent Lott.

Under government ethics rules, gifts valued at more than $250 must be disclosed annually by Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. All told, Cheney received 10 gifts valued at roughly $6,000 last year. While Bush received mostly sporting goods, Cheney reported lots of art gifts, including a $700 statue and two paintings valued together at $2,400. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation gave Cheney a $350 hatchet commemorating the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Meanwhile, Donald Vinson, a family friend from Wyoming, gave Cheney a dozen bottles of wine valued at $699.

But perhaps the most interesting gifts were the ones Bush and Cheney gave to each other. Bush lists his Christmas gift from Cheney as a desk clock valued at $595. Bush’s gift to Cheney, according to the VP’s financial disclosure: a $425 floor globe.
President Bush and his staff also received some very unique gifts recently, including original watercolor portraits of the forty-three Presidents of the United States, bound in a velvet book studded with precious gems, held in a wooden presentation case with an amber mosaic of the United States on the lid, from His Excellency Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation (value: $45,000).

President Bush and his family receive about 1,000 gifts per month from foreign and domestic well-wishers. Air Force's football team added to the Bush total in 2001 and 2002 with jerseys and hats during White House visits to celebrate winning the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, given to the country's best service-academy team.

When the Auburn women's champion swimming team visited the White House it ditched the traditional gift of a team shirt. Instead, swimmers gave Bush a skimpy black Speedo.

"Awfully thoughtful of you," Bush said, holding the tiny suit aloft. "Not gonna wear it."

Air Force coach Fisher De-Berry ventured a guess to the fate of all those Falcons jerseys - Air Force has won 13 of the past 17 Commander-in-Chief Trophies.

"I'm sure they donate them to charity," DeBerry said.

Mostly, they don't.

Prior to both Bush presidencies, several "priceless" items given to President Clinton and his wife Hillary turned up at the William Jefferson Clinton Library Foundation amid allegations that the former first couple failed to report numerous gifts during their eight year White House tenure.

"The gifts are personal and priceless, including a gold, silver and jewel-encrusted Bahrani Horse presented to Clinton by the Amir of Bahrain," reported the Associated Press.
Other items on display as part of an exhibit that will draw on more than 75,000 gifts and artifacts removed from the White House include a formal White House dining display, a Gibson guitar signed by B.B. King, a metal sculpture of a University of Arkansas Razorback pig and a Tour de France bike given by Lance Armstrong.

At one time the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee revealed that the Clintons accepted $361,968 in unrecorded gifts worth more than $250 - the threshold above which reporting is legally required.

Previously unknown White House gifts include Ming Dynasty jewelry, Ferragamo silk ties, hundreds of cigars and expensive watches, reported the New York Post at the time.

Though it's not clear whether any of the gifts currently on display at the Clinton Library are among those cited by the House Committee, one former White House insider claimed last year that the ex-first couple took many unrecorded gifts with them when they left office.
In February 2001 Linda Tripp told CNN that the Clintons set out to evade White House gift laws from the very beginning.

"Gifts were coming in from everywhere," Tripp said. "I know on many occasions [the gifts] went to them." In some instances the gifts taken by the Clintons were "opulent," she added.

"I was brought in because of my institutional memory and my knowledge of procedure," Tripp said. "I'm filling out the gift unit form ... and they didn't want any part of that." Before being asked to stay on with the Clinton administration, Tripp had worked in the first Bush White House.

One room in the White House "was floor to ceiling stacked with gifts," she recalled. "In the Clinton White House ... most of it didn't make it to the gift unit," where gifts were supposed to go after they were properly recorded.

But the former White House worker said first family consigliere Bruce Lindsey ordered her to nix the gift-recording procedure with the words, "Take off your Bush hat. This is the Clinton White House."

During their White House years Nancy and Ronald Reagan received more that 100,000 gifts, not including plants, flowers, and items of food or drink. Because these items are considered gifts to the people of the United States, they become the property of the federal government. Many of these gifts are exhibited in the museum galleries along with artifacts and other items that depict the fascinating life of Ronald Reagan.

At the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark., the Clinton Presidential Library is one of 12 presidential libraries. It has about 1,000 objects that can be seen by the paying public.

His complete collection, however, numbers about 80,000. It will take about 10 years to catalog every item. That includes records for 186 sports team jerseys, including three from the 1996 Colorado Avalanche and the 1998 Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.

Why keep this stuff, anyway? Because, staffers say, it's history - a place where presidential gifts go to die, and to live for the ages.

"Part of our role is preservation and providing things for research for the future," said registrar Audra Oliver, who donned gloves before handling each jersey or other artifact. Clinton's papers are archived separately from gifts. Taxpayers foot the bill for perpetual storage. Operating expenses for Presidential Libraries will total an estimated $53.8 million this year.

Ronald Reagan's collection has two 1988 Olympic warmup suits and one from Air Force; two 1984 Olympic jackets, and a couple of Olympic hockey team jerseys, among others.

"I do not believe he kept any," said Mike Uggan, the Ronald Reagan library's supervisory archivist. "All I've seen him in was Western wear. I've never seen him walking around in a Team USA jacket."

Bush, the former baseball owner, likes having teams around. Like Reagan, most presidents keep sports gifts on the shelf. Jimmy Carter got a cowboy hat from the 1980 U.S. Winter Olympic team. It's shelved in his presidential library, the crown stuffed with acid-free paper.

The 1980 Summer Olympic team members visited Carter's White House in a different mood. Carter had pulled the plug on their Games, boycotting the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. So they got a visit, but it was a poor substitute. Records show Carter received no gift.

Richard Nixon's library records show jerseys from the Philadelphia Eagles and Division III college Gustavus Adolphus.

Lyndon Johnson's library has a New York Knicks jersey. A famed Texas football fan, Johnson did not take it with him.

Unlike with gifts from outside the United States, the president and first lady don't have to reimburse the federal government for domestic gifts over a certain dollar amount, though they might have to disclose and/or pay taxes on them.

Harry Truman's presidential museum has baseball caps and balls, thanks to his wife, Bess.

"He was not a great athlete," said Scott Roley, the Truman library's deputy director. "Actually, Bess liked baseball more than Truman did."

Dwight Eisenhower was a member of the Augusta National Golf Club, site of the Masters. Eisenhower's collection includes one of the famed green jackets, carefully stored on a large padded hanger in a wardrobe metal cupboard, with powder-coated paint because an oilbased one would break down.

Gift Destination

In most cases, the White House Gift Office gets it. The office isn't big enough to hold the 1,000 or so gifts per month the president receives, so the National Archives offers temporary storage for the incumbent president. Sometime after Bush leaves office in early 2009, items will be shipped to interim storage until the Bush Library is built, where gifts will be stored permanently or displayed.

Interim storage could take years. President Clinton's items were stored at an old auto dealership; George H.W. Bush's in a former bowling alley.

Do presidents get to bring
anything home?

Sure. Before the Presidential Gift Act formalized things, presidents took what they wanted. Dwight Eisenhower got first dibs, then allowed staffers to pick through the gifts he left behind.

Nowadays, since a gift technically is given to the office of the president, not the president himself, the Commander-in-Chief might have to reimburse the government or pay taxes if he wants to keep certain gifts.

White House Gifts Gone Wrong

South Lawn Snub 1998

Pat Lipinski, gold-medal skater Tara's mom, threw a South Lawn fit during the U.S. Olympic team visit when Michelle Kwan was chosen to give President Clinton an Olympic team jacket after the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. USOC officials chose Kwan, the silver medalist, instead of Lipinski to promote the 2002 Games in Salt Lake, where Lipinski was not going to compete. Unlike mom, the younger Lipinski kept her cool. "I had a great day," she told the Washington Post. "I met the president. It was really wonderful."

Flip-flop flap 2005

Some members of Northwestern University's champion women's lacrosse team created a stir when they wore flip-flops to the White House ceremony.

Moms were mortified. Students, aware that flipflops have gone upscale, wondered about the fuss. After all, in 2001, George W. Bush's daughter, Jenna, wore flip-flops to court when pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of possessing alcohol as a minor.

Players turned it around, planning to auction the footwear and donate the funds to help a young fan with cancer.





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