At Noon on Jan. 20, Lots of Things Turned to Pumpkins

By Al Kamen
Monday, January 26, 2009

As George W. Bush learned, there's an upside to being president: He amassed a dazzling array of gifts from foreign dignitaries.

But there's a downside, too: He can't keep them.

Foreign leaders lavished Bush with presents during his White House tenure, but law requires the president to turn over high-value gifts to government archives. In 2007, according to newly released federal records, Bush accumulated a spectacular treasure trove from a long list of His Excellencies.

From his BFF John Howard, the distinguished former prime minister of Australia (and our favorite Blair House guest), Bush received a riding coat, a cattleman's hat and a messenger bag, as well as a Montblanc pen ($495), a Tournament Shortstroker fishing rod ($852) and a collection of three paintings ($2,250).

French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave Bush a $5,000 bronze statue of a horse, in a leather box. Turkmenistan's president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, offered a burgundy rug with blue, green, orange and cream accents, a $1,896 value. But former KGB thug and Russian president Vladimir Putin was decidedly less generous, giving Bush hardcover books of English sonnets, one copy in English and one in Russian, and a copper-and-brass samovar (a Russian urn used to boil water for tea).

Speaking of tea, Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet offered a gold-plated tea set with images of dragons (teapot, six teacups, sugar bowl and cream pitcher). Triet also gave Bush a $4,500 electric harp with speakerphone. (We didn't know Bush played.)

Bush collected a dozen Moser crystal champagne flutes, valued at $3,060, from Czech President Vaclav Klaus. He also gathered a heap of neckties from Italian leaders, including 12 E. Marinella silk ties from Silvio Berlusconi and six Salvatore Ferragamo silk ties from Romano Prodi. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, gave Bush a white traditional Afghan pantsuit and a black-and-gold traditional Afghan vest. (Excellent for clearing brush.)

Bush gathered a few weapons, too, including an antique silver pistol from the mayor of Fushe-Kruje, Albania, and a 25-inch silver sword with elaborate detailing and carnelian stones from the president of Yemen.

As expected, the Santa Claus of the bunch turned out to be King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud. The Saudi monarch bestowed upon Bush a sapphire-and-diamond necklace, bracelet, earrings and ring -- a jewelry set valued at a whopping $85,000. Not to be outdone, he also gave Bush a $10,000 piece of artwork depicting a desert scene with Bedouins, camels and a tent made of gold.

The law allows the leader of the free world to keep only those gifts valued at less than $335.

This Year's Model

There's no word yet on who's going to be the new "car czar" to oversee the rescue of the auto industry. One name that had surfaced was Wall Streeter Steven Rattner, who's at Quadrangle Group, a private equity firm. Another possibility is Josh Gotbaum, son of labor icon Victor Gotbaum, who also has investment banking experience. The younger Gotbaum also worked at the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration and helped Hawaiian Airlines through Chapter 11 a few years ago. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) is said to be hoping for an appointee with substantial knowledge of the industry.

Smoot to USTR

Obama campaign finance director Julianna Smoot, known as "the $700 million woman" for her prowess in raising massive amounts of cash, is said to be the next chief of staff in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Demetrios J. Marantis, former associate general counsel in the office and now chief international trade counsel on the Senate Finance Committee, is being looked at for one deputyship; incumbent deputy Peter Algeier looks to be staying on in Geneva; and a new deputy position is likely to go to someone from the United Auto Workers.

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