(It’s a rhetorical question.)
Federal law requires each government department and agency to submit a list to the State Department of gifts over $415 received from officials of foreign governments. “The measure is intended to ensure that foreign governments do not gain undue influence over American officials,” says the New York Times, but that’s silly: there are a thousand ways that foreign nations can and do try to insert quid pro quos into relations with our government officials that don’t involve jewel-encrusted scimitars, busts of Winston Churchill or pairs of golden marmosets. Gifts are ham-handed way to bribe anyone, but never mind: the law addresses that old “appearance of impropriety” thingy.
So I pronounce myself shocked–shocked!—to learn that the Trump administration left office without providing the State Department with an accounting of the gifts former President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials received from foreign governments in 2020. The State Department, now run by Democrats and happy to dish dirt on the Trump years, said that as a result, it could not account for the gifts officials received. This, the news media wants us to know, makes it hard and even impossible to determine whether anything improper took place. Since it’s Trump, we should assume that something improper did take place. You know, Trump.
I don’t mean to excuse this sloppiness, or arrogance, or incompetence on the part of Trump’s “best people.” There’s no excuse for it. I simply know that the presumption of wrongdoing will apply, because it’s Trump. In my case, I presume incompetence and the fact that Trump, in the immortal words of William Jennings Bryan, doesn’t think about things he doesn’t think about. He also doesn’t care about things he doesn’t care about, and doesn’t care who does care about them.
The department said, in an unusual public disclosure, that the Office of the Chief of Protocol under a Trump appointee until Jan. 20, 2021, had failed to ask the White House for a list of the gifts it received before the Trumps et al. had cleared out. Then the Biden version of the office tried to catch up, but couldn’t come up with an accounting.“ As a result, the data required to fully compile a complete listing for 2020 is unavailable,” the State Department said in a footnote to its list of gifts government officials received that year.
What is also inexcusable is that in preparing its story about the lack of compliance, the New York Times sought the ethics expertise of Richard Painter, the former top ethics lawyer for George W. Bush’s administration. Painter was once a respected ethics authority, but as car-carrying member of the Bush Administration alumni NeverTrump cabal and a crackpot leader of the “Let’s impeach the bastard before he can take office” loonies, he repeatedly disgraced himself throughout the Trump years until everyone got tired of listening to him. (Personally, I think he killed my favorite legal ethics forum, on which he was a prominent contributor and commenter, by banging his Trump-Hate drum incessantly.)
So with all the government ethics experts available, why would the Times use Painter? (What am I, chopped liver?) That was another rhetorical question, two in fact. They didn’t want an objective opinion, they wanted what they got:
“It’s flagrant and it looks terrible,” said Richard W. Painter, the former top ethics lawyer for George W. Bush’s administration. “Either it was really stupid or really corrupt”…The ethics expert, Mr. Painter, said that by failing to disclose the gifts, the Trump White House violated the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution, which makes it illegal to take gifts from foreigners without permission from Congress. But Mr. Painter said that because the emoluments clause is toothless and has no criminal or civil penalties, it is extremely difficult to hold a former official accountable.
I don’t disagree with Painter at all, but he is simply not an objective guide on anything involving Donald Trump.
[The photo above is of the “Resolute Desk,” which Queen Victoria gave outgoing President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. It was, carved from the timbers of the British ship H.M.S. Resolute. Unlike Trump, the always selfless and proper Hayes didn’t take his gifts with him. The desk has been the centerpiece of the Oval Office ever since, has been used by all but three Presidents since it was given.]