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Returned gifts do belong to U.S., feds say

SHARE Returned gifts do belong to U.S., feds say

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sofas, chairs, a pair of lamps and other home furnishings that former President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton took and then shipped back to Washington were property of the White House, not personal gifts they were entitled to keep, the government has found.

"I feel 99 percent certain that everything that's been returned to us is government property," said Jim McDaniel, speaking for the National Park Service, which conducted the examination.

The Clintons returned 19 items on Wednesday after some donors said their gifts were for the White House, not the former first family. The goods — valued at about $28,000 and possibly more — were put on a truck in Chappaqua, N.Y., where the Clintons have a house, and shipped to a warehouse in a Maryland suburb of Washington where White House items are stored.

"The list of what came in has been checked against our files," McDaniel said Thursday. "For the most part the objects that we received have corresponding letters on file from the Park Service accepting them as gifts for use in the White House."

It was not clear why the items ended up with the Clintons.

The former president and first lady, who now is a freshman Democratic senator from New York, declined to comment on the Park Service's finding.

Still, the flap over the gifts has prompted McDaniel to review the Park Service's procedures for handling donations to the White House. "We'll use this as an opportunity to check ourselves to make sure we have a good, tight system," he said.

White House spokesman Anne Womack confirmed that the usher's office had received a list of the items returned. "They're examining their records to see if they have any information that differs from what the Park Service has," she said.

After being criticized for taking $190,000 worth of china, flatware, rugs, televisions, sofas and other gifts with them when they left the White House, the Clintons announced last week that they would pay for $86,000 worth of gifts.

This week, questions arose over more than $28,000 in items found on a list of donations the Park Service received for a 1993 White House redecoration project. The Washington Post this week quoted three donors who said that they had assumed the furnishings they donated for the project would stay in the White House.

Among the 19 gifts they returned were a kitchen table and four chairs valued at $3,650 from Lee Ficks of Cincinnati; two sofas, an easy chair and an ottoman worth $19,900 from Steve Mittman of New York; lamps valued at $1,170 from Stuart Shiller of Hialeah, Fla.; and a $2,843 sofa from Brad Noe, a businessman from California.

The other gifts the Clintons returned had not been disclosed as of Thursday. McDaniel said they included "lamps, tables and that kind of stuff" that also appear to be government property.

As further evidence that the gifts were meant for the White House, the Park Service provided a letter that the late Vincent Foster, then-deputy counsel to the president, wrote to Gary Walters, chief usher of the executive residence at the White House. The letter, dated March 24, 1993, referenced donations to the White House redecoration project.

McDaniel said the letter from the counsel's office, which oversees legal aspects of donations, provided the basis for the Park Service to accept them as gifts for the White House, as opposed to personal gifts meant for the Clintons.

"I understand you will coordinate with the National Park Service to assure that these donors receive acknowledgments both from the Executive Residence and from the National Park Service," Foster wrote.

Foster committed suicide in July 1993. A note he left behind said: "The usher's office plotted to have excessive costs incurred."