August 5, 2021 1:55:07 pm
Written by Michael S. Schmidt
The State Department is investigating the whereabouts of a $5,800 bottle of whiskey the Japanese government gave to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2019, according to two people briefed on the inquiry and a document made public on Wednesday.
It was unclear whether Pompeo ever received the gift, as he was traveling in Saudi Arabia on June 24, 2019, the day that Japanese officials gave it to the State Department, according to a department filing on Wednesday in the Federal Register documenting gifts that senior American officials received in 2019. Such officials are often insulated by staff members who receive gifts and messages for them.
American officials can keep gifts that are less than $390. But if the officials want to keep gifts that are over that price, they must purchase them. According to the filing, the State Department said the bottle was appraised at $5,800.
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.
“The department is looking into the matter and has an ongoing inquiry,” the filing said.
Pompeo, through his lawyer William A. Burck, said he had no recollection of receiving the bottle of whiskey, and did not have any knowledge of what happened to it or that there was a department inquiry into its whereabouts.
“He has no idea what the disposition was of this bottle of whiskey,” Burck said.
Under the Constitution, it is illegal for an American official to accept a gift from a foreign government, and gifts are considered property of the U.S. government. The founders included the measure to stop foreign governments from gaining undue influence over American officials. Any officials caught accepting such gifts can face civil penalties, or impeachment if they are still in office.
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.
Trump administration officials routinely flouted guidelines about day-to-day government issues like record-keeping and ethics, and paperwork filed for gifts was often incomplete.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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