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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.

A Choice for NATO

One of the first ambassadorships likely to be announced -- that would be ambassador to NATO -- is going to Ivo H. Daalder, former director for European affairs on the National Security Council and an early Obama campaign foreign policy adviser who's at the Brookings Institution. The administration wants to get a nomination to the Senate quickly so it can confirm someone before the big NATO spring meeting in April.

Names in the Mix

Here are some names that have been floating among the foreign-defense policy types for top administration jobs.

Daniel Shapiro, an Obama campaign aide for Middle East stuff, legislative director for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and former members of the Clinton National Security Council staff, is said to be the pick for senior director at the NSC for the Middle East and North Africa.

Daniel Benjamin, a terrorism expert at the Brookings Institution who had been Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's terrorism adviser during the presidential campaign, appears to be joining the State Department as assistant secretary for counterterrorism. "The Next Attack," a book he co-authored, opens with: "We are losing . . ."

Jennifer E. Sims, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for intelligence coordination and Senate intelligence committee aide who is now a Georgetown professor, is returning to Foggy Bottom to head the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. That would mean that Christopher A. Kojm, an aide to former congressman Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) and one of the principal authors of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group Report, who had been eyed for INR, will be getting a major intelligence post, maybe working for CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta.

Washington lawyer Todd Stern, staff secretary in the Clinton White House and a top official at the Treasury Department, is expected to be named envoy for climate change.

Rose Gottemoeller is reportedly coming back from the Carnegie Institute's Moscow office to be assistant secretary of state for verification, and there's some chatter that Harvard's Ashton B. Carter, who had been assistant secretary for international security policy in the Clinton administration, would be assistant secretary of defense for procurement -- meaning the top shopper.

There still appear to be openings at State for top jobs minding South Asia -- but no one seems to want them now, because the odds are you'll never know what's really going on in your region what with special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke in charge. Ditto for the Middle East post, but they might decide to just elevate the highly regarded career deputy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, to take care of things new special envoy George J. Mitchell (and maybe Dennis Ross) don't care about.

Serving at Justice

At the Justice Department, the Obama administration has named: criminal lawyer Lanny Breuer, who represented pitcher Roger Clemens and former president Bill Clinton, to run the criminal division; David S. Kris, a critic of the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping, to oversee national security matters; former federal prosecutor Tony West to run the civil division; and Christine Varney, who had been talked about to run the Federal Trade Commission, to head the antitrust division.

Nice While It Lasted

As expected, we got an e-mail Friday afternoon from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Joseph Kelliher, who earlier last week said he was staying as chairman until President Obama named his successor, telling us that Obama "has designated [commissioner] Jon Wellinghoff as acting chairman, effective immediately."

That frees Kelliher -- who's graciously staying on payroll as a commissioner while he looks for work, but recusing himself in all cases where there's a possible conflict -- to focus more effectively on his quest.

Not So Fast

We got a call first thing Friday from New York. Our caller protested an implication in that day's column that the UNICEF post, held by former Bush administration agriculture chief Ann Veneman, was open, should Caroline Kennedy want a neat job. Veneman's term expires next year.

With Philip Rucker

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