Did the Clintons Steal White House Furniture?
During an editorial discussion, one of my esteemed colleagues discussed a rumor about the Clintons. He said that when President Bill Clinton moved back to civilian life in January 2001, he and his wife Hillary may have “accidentally” put some furniture in the moving van that did not belong to them. Did the Clintons steal furniture from the White House? Did Clintons steal any other items from White House? Overall, a fact check reveals such allegations are false.
I laughed at the suggestion but decided it deserved some investigation. I had heard the rumor myself, which surfaced as Hillary Clinton started campaigning for the 2016 presidential election, but I found it ludicrous. For all the criticisms, deserved and not, leveled against the Clintons, I had doubts. The idea that two millionaires with an opportunity to rake in serious bucks in appearances, speeches, or books would steal government property struck me as odd.
Hillary Clinton Stole $200,000 Furnishing from White House?
Many would love for the rumor that Hillary Clinton stole $200,000 in furnishing from the White House to be accurate. It’s not. Or at least, it’s much more complicated.
Yet, it happens that the rumor has some credibility. The way the rumor presents the case conjures up images of Bill and Hillary dressed as “hamburglars,” of 1970s and 1980s McDonald’s commercial fame, emptying out the Oval Office of valuables. In fact, The Washington Post reported on 21 January 2001 that the Clintons took an estimated $190,000 worth of gifts with them when they left 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Clintons received the gifts over the course of their eight years at the White House. Some of these came from the many Hollywood celebrities that visited the presidential couple between 1993 and 2001. Some of the gifts even came from President Clinton’s friends and classmates from his days at Georgetown University. (Source: “Clintons Take Away $190,000 In Gifts,” The Washington Post, January 21, 2001.)
Therefore, at worst, the Clinton’s were guilty of ignoring protocols and precedents. They may also be guilty of all manner of errors, deceptions, poor policies, and then some. But, home burglars they are not. The gifts that the Clinton First Family took consisted of art, dishes, some furniture, and rugs. They used them to decorate their houses in Northwest Washington and in Chappaqua, N.Y. (Source: Ibid.)
Did the Clintons steal silverware? No, they didn’t necessarily steal it. Any silverware that ended up moving with them to one of their two post-White House residences was just like the other gifts they received. Below are some notable examples of what the Clintons took, or thought they could take.
Two constituents from N.Y. State gave the Clintons, while Bill was still president, five china items that government accountants valued at $2,110. Actor Ted Danson and his wife Mary Steenburgen gifted some $4,800 worth of China while famed movie director Steven Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw bested their fellow Hollywoodians with some $4,900 worth of china. (Source: Ibid.)
We don’t know what the Clintons need all that china for. But it’s easy to see how they could have fallen into the trap of thinking that it belonged to them. Would you report and duly account for a set of boxing gloves from Sylvester Stallone or a golf club from Jack Nicholson?
The Clintons Breached Some Rules, But, Technically They Did Not Steal
The Clintons were in breach of some White House rules but they did not steal anything. They weren’t even forced to return anything. If they’re guilty of anything, it’s of not properly accounting for their gifts. They didn’t even try to hide the items. Whatever they returned was done out of political pressure rather than its legal counterpart. (Source: “POLITIFACT: No, Clintons Didn’t Steal $200K of Furniture from White House,” OccupyDemocrats, October 7, 2016.)
Indeed, even $200,000—or the lower $190,000 estimate—as the total value of the items that raised questions might be too high. We can make that assumption rather confidently because the Clintons returned about $48,000 in furniture, which they took mistakenly (see below), and paid the U.S. government taxes for some $86,000 worth of items. Some of the items the Clintons returned to the Government were ultimately sent back to them.
Government employees aren’t allowed to keep gifts. So the White House staffers who allegedly accused the Clintons of stealing used that fact to craft their accusations. They attribute the investigation to the FBI no less. (Source: “FBI Docs: Hillary Clinton Removed Furniture from State Department to Furnish D.C. Home,” Breitbart, October 17, 2016.)
Things First Family Can Take from White House
The First Family, for starters, can take their memories. Surely, for any President and their family, living in the White House, the veritable center of world power, must be indescribable. But presidents are also showered with gifts. Many foreign dignitaries, some coming from countries where the idea of having to report a gift seems silly, present lavish gifts. These cause more than embarrassment. The King of Saudi Arabia presented First Lady Michelle Obama jewels worth over a million dollars. (Source: “Obama Out: 3 Things the Fist Family Can (Legally) Swipe from the White House,” Realtor.com. January 18, 2017.)
Generally, the gifts that presidents receive are cataloged and registered at the National Archive. Gifts are generally considered the property of the United States. Anything that is worth more than $375.00 stays at the archive. If the president or a member of the first family wants to keep one or more of the over-$375.00 gifts, they must purchase them from the Government at market value. (Source: Ibid.)
Thus, if the Italian President offered Trump a “Lamborghini” as a gift, the president would have to pay for it at market value if he wanted to keep it. President Bush bought a special gun and Hillary Clinton bought a necklace presented to her by Myanmar’s now leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Still, even if they want to pay for them, the first family doesn’t even have the option to pay for gifts that were intended for the White House specifically.
Thus, such things as couches or chairs or any items given to the White House must stay. The Clintons mistook a few of these very items, including two sofas and an easy chair donated from Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman, as their own. These are the items they were forced to return. These are also the items that fueled the rumors of Hillary Clinton stealing furniture.
Once again, it would be best for all concerned if pundits concentrated on holding powerful people to account over their policies and political decisions rather than their house-moving habits. The Clintons, between Bill and Hillary, have made some monumental policy mistakes. But they are not common burglars.
The Real Controversy
I get the feeling that the Clintons themselves may even have appreciated some of the furniture- and china-stealing accusations leveled against them. Indeed, they helped distract the press—and others—from far more controversial decisions that President Clinton took just before leaving the White House.
Enter Marc Rich, whose real name is Marcell David Reich, the now notorious American-Belgian-Spanish businessman. He was convicted by the U.S. court of fraud, insider trading, and violating the embargo with Iran in the midst of the hostage crisis. He was also investigated in connection with the biggest tax evasion case in U.S. history. With more than 60 charges, he faced up to 325 years in prison. Ranked among the 10 most wanted fugitives in the world and pursued by the FBI, he found refuge in Switzerland. It was a good location because the Swiss refused to extradite him. He founded the multinational Glencore.
It turns out President Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich on January 20, 2001, hours if not minutes before handing over the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to George W. Bush on January 20, 2001. So, the Clintons didn’t steal anything, but it would appear as if they pardoned someone who may have stolen far more than $200,000 in furniture. This became a national scandal when the press revealed that the billionaire’s ex-wife, Denise Rich, had raised money for the Democrats and recently promised Clinton to find $450,000 to help finance her future Little Rock Library in Arkansas. (Source: “Denise Rich Gave $450,000 to Clinton Library,” ABC News, February 9, 2002.)
There were other controversies from Whitewater to Vince Foster, Travelgate, and Paula Jones. My particular favorite is more innocent. Hillary Clinton visited U.S. troops during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1996. 12 years later, having been elected senator, the former First Lady boasted that snipers were targeting her—and her entourage presumably—upon arrival at the airport. She claimed of having to run for cover. Faced with growing skepticism, CBS checked the story and Ms. Clinton was forced to retract her action-hero narrative straight out of Hollywood. She said she made a mistake. Indeed, Lara Croft she is not.