A California businessman said yesterday that a sofa worth almost $3,000 that he was supposed to have given President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton seven years ago wasn't meant for them and that he was "offended" to have been named as the giver.
"I would never give a gift to the Clintons," said Brad Noe, a former executive with Henredon Furniture Industries Inc. "It was a corporate gift [for the White House], not a personal gift to the Clintons. I don't know why my name is on it."
Noe spoke to The Washington Post as the Clintons announced they will return any gifts they took from the White House last month if it turns out the items weren't meant for them. The Post reported Monday that the Clintons left the White House with $28,000 in furnishings that they said were personal gifts but that were actually given to the National Park Service for the White House's permanent collection.
How those items wound up on a list of personal gifts to the president, compiled by the White House gifts office, remained unexplained. Clinton's transition office said yesterday none of the furnishings in question was on the official list of White House property that is not to be removed from the premises.
The gifts at issue include two sofas, an easy chair and an ottoman worth $19,900 from a New York furniture maker, a $2,843 sofa from Henredon, and a $3,650 breakfast set from a Cincinnati company. The New York furniture maker, Steve Mittman, and, Joy Ficks, the widow of the Cincinnati manufacturer, have said they made the donations to the White House for a $396,000 redecoration of the executive mansion in 1993 and not to the Clintons personally.
Noe said the sofa also was given for the same project. He said it actually came from an Arkansas furniture dealer but Henredon picked up the tab.
"All of these items were considered gifts to us," Hillary Clinton, now a senator from New York, told reporters in Rochester, N.Y., yesterday. "That's what the permanent record of the White House showed. . . . But if there is a different intent, we will certainly honor the intention of the donor."
Clinton's transition office added in a statement that the White House usher's office and the White House curator's office reviewed each of the items the Clintons took with them against the official list of White House property.
"In short, gifts did not leave the White House without the approval of the White House Usher's and Curator's Offices," the statement said.
In connection with a press tour of the White House redecoration project in November 1993, however, the National Park Service issued an itemized list of "contributors to the National Park Service" and what they had donated for the refurbishing. The Park Service is the only unit with the legal authority to accept gifts for the White House. A gift meant for the first family personally is routed through the gifts office, a separate unit.
On the Park Service list were Mittman, the Fickses, Noe and two others whose gifts the Clintons took with them on leaving the White House: Little Rock rug dealer David Martinous, who donated a $1,000 needlepoint, and Hialeah lamp manufacturer Stuart Schiller, who provided lamps valued at $1,170. Martinous has said he wanted the Clintons to keep the rug. Schiller did not return telephone calls from a reporter, but Clinton transition spokesman Jake Siewert said yesterday that Schiller told that office that the lamps, too, were meant for the Clintons.
Former White House curator Clement Conger said items meant for the White House collection are usually stamped with an accession number within a day or two of arrival and catalogued as official property. Apparently this was not done with the 1993, Park Service-listed furnishings that the Clintons took with them.
Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for Hillary Clinton, said the Clintons reviewed the gifts office list -- several hundred pages long -- each year, but did not decide until shortly before leaving office what they wanted to keep.
Asked about the gifts yesterday, President Bush said that he was confident the Clintons "will make the right decision."