Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton on Wednesday of being corrupt, zeroing in at one point on a lavish present she received from the Asian nation of Brunei when she was secretary of state. But the presumptive Republican nominee mischaracterized the way U.S. government officials handle gifts from foreign sources, and there’s no evidence that she kept the item in question for herself.
In fact, a review of government records reveals that the former first lady kept just two of the many presents she received from non-U.S. sources during her time as President Obama’s top diplomat.
Trump’s accusation came in a wide-ranging speech attacking Clinton as unfit for the White House.
“Hillary Clinton accepted $58,000 in jewelry from the government of Brunei when she was secretary of state plus millions more for her foundation,” he charged. “The sultan of Brunei has pushed oppressive Sharia law, including the punishment by death and stoning if you happen to be gay.”
Because U.S. law requires government officials to report gifts worth more than $375 and since the list of presents from foreign sources is made public, it’s fairly easy to figure out what Trump was talking about. It appears that he was referring to a gift Clinton received on Sept. 7, 2012.
Even in the dry language of a government catalog, it sounds lavish: “Mouawad Larme D’Amour 18k gold, sapphire, and diamond earrings, necklace, and bracelet.” The gift, appraised at $58,000, was from Brunei’s queen.
This kind of over-the-top gift-giving is a long-standing diplomatic practice. It’s also a bizarre ritual. U.S. government officials can’t turn presents down because “non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. government.” At the same time, as the givers surely know, U.S. government officials also typically can’t keep them for personal use — unless they pay the U.S. Treasury fair market value.
Because of this, the overwhelming majority of foreign offerings end up in the U.S. National Archives or are turned over to the federal General Services Administration. Some end up on display at the government agency of the recipient. Presidents get an exception and can take foreign gifts with them when they leave office, but only to display or store them at their presidential library. You can see some of the 43,000 gifts George W. Bush and Laura Bush received during their time at the White House here.
In the case of Clinton’s bounty from Brunei, the report notes that the jewelry headed to the General Services Administration, which oversees real estate owned by the federal government and also warehouses some foreign gifts.
The State Department’s human rights report on Brunei from 2012, the same year Clinton received the gift, doesn’t go as far as Trump in critiquing the government of the Islamic nation, though it notes that the country’s laws criminalize same-sex relationships. The State Department assessment also includes other critical views of the tiny Asian country on issues like political rights and female circumcision.
Clinton did choose to buy back two of the foreign gifts she received while in office.
She purchased the “black two-strand cushion pearl necklace with gemstones on a copper clasp” — estimated value $970 — that she received in October 2012 from Burma democracy champion and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
And she retained a “painting of red mountain scene” received in May 2011 from Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian, valued at $650.
The possible sentimental and historic value of the necklace from Suu Kyi is readily apparent. The value of the painting is less so. Contacted by Yahoo News, aides to the Clinton campaign wouldn’t say why she got attached to it or where it resides today.
But an Armenian foreign ministry spokesperson, Tigran Balayan, told Yahoo News by email that the art was the work of painter Vladimir Soghomonian and represented “its author’s imagination of the colours of Armenian mountains.”
There is no photograph of the painting, Balayan said, but “at the time of purchase it was approximately $50” — quite a bit less than Clinton paid for it.