Kitschy key chains, “lousy t-shirts” and picture postcards may be standard souvenirs for the typical traveler. But jet-setting lawmakers are not your typical travelers.
According to the State Department’s annual summary of gifts that U.S. officials received from foreign governments, five Senators — and no House members — returned from trips abroad last year with a slew of unique, and often expensive, presents.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) received a rug with an estimated value of $1,000 from Afghan President Hamid Karzai last November, when he and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) traveled to Kabul to celebrate Thanksgiving with U.S. soldiers.
There is, however, a catch with such gifts. Members are allowed to accept them, on the premise that refusing them might embarrass the giver — but they cannot keep the gifts.
So while Reed is barred from using the carpet in his own digs, he is allowed to keep it on display in Room 450 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building, which houses the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Despite the rules, many lawmakers have managed to find permissible ways of enjoying their souvenirs.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), for instance, displays in his Russell building office a limited edition gold coin that he received from Bahrain’s emir Sheik Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the crown prince and commander in chief of the Bahrainian Defense Force.
Likewise, in Clinton’s Russell building office, the Senator displays a pair of 5th- and 6th-century replica earrings that she received from Park Kwan Yong, the speaker of the South Korean National Assembly.
Three other gifts Clinton received from foreign dignitaries last year were deposited with the Secretary of the Senate.
These included a small handbag designed by Korean artist Geon Man Lee from Seung Youn Kim, the ambassador of international economics and trade for the Republic of Korea, and a replica of a Kuwaiti sailboat with gold plating from the emir of Kuwait.
Clinton’s most surprising gift, however, was the gold pin in the shape of a drum given by Jewel Howard Taylor, the wife of warlord-turned-Liberian president Charles Taylor. Taylor was ousted last August amid charges that he had committed international war crimes. He is now in exile in Nigeria, which has said it will not extradite him for prosecution.
Clinton’s office was unable to provide information about how the gift materialized by press time.
Not surprisingly, Rep. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, received more gifts from foreign heads of state and others than any other Senator.
Among his booty: an abstract hanging sculpture from Chyung Dai-Chul, a member of the South Korean National Assembly; six crystal glasses from Slovakian President Rudolf Schuster; a crystal decanter from Borut Pahor, the president of Slovenia’s National Assembly; a black vase with blue flowers from Ukrainian Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich; an “elegant pen set” from King Abdullah bin al-Hussein and Queen Rania al-Abdullah of Jordan; and “embellish bottle and glasses” from Sergey Mironov, speaker of the Russian Federation Council.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) scored two gifts from Pakistani leaders. Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, gave Levin a silver-plated engraved bowl, while Pakistani Army Gen. Muhammad Yusaf Khan gave the Senator a handcrafted round wooden table with a gold decorative design.