Reveals That the Nixons Received Jewelry Gifts Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Although the U.S. Constitution and the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act forbids U.S. government officials and their families from accepting gifts from foreign rulers without permission from Congress, President Richard Nixon’s wife and daughters received more than $100,000 worth of jewelry from the Saudi Arabian royal family. The Nixons received about 3,500 gifts from foreign officials, most of which they kept after Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

Summary of Event

Article 1, Section 9 of the United States Constitution prohibits federal officials from accepting gifts from the heads of foreign states. Also, the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act of 1881 Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act of 1881 (amended in 1966) details procedures for handling such gifts to keep from offending foreign leaders, and it expanded the prohibition to include the families of federal officeholders. Jewelry and any other gifts with a value greater than $100 automatically become the property of the U.S. government. The purpose of the ban was to prevent foreign countries from bribing or otherwise influencing U.S. office holders in hopes of receiving preferential treatment for business contracts or foreign policy. [kw]Washington Post Reveals That the Nixons Received Jewelry Gifts (May 14, 1974) [kw]Nixons Received Jewelry Gifts, Washington Post Reveals That the (May 14, 1974) Nixon, Richard [p]Nixon, Richard;gifts received Nixon, Pat Washington Post;and Richard Nixon[Nixon] Nixon, Richard [p]Nixon, Richard;gifts received Nixon, Pat Washington Post;and Richard Nixon[Nixon] [g]United States;May 14, 1974: Washington Post Reveals That the Nixons Received Jewelry Gifts[01480] [c]Politics;May 14, 1974: Washington Post Reveals That the Nixons Received Jewelry Gifts[01480] [c]Publishing and journalism;May 14, 1974: Washington Post Reveals That the Nixons Received Jewelry Gifts[01480] [c]Ethics;May 14, 1974: Washington Post Reveals That the Nixons Received Jewelry Gifts[01480] [c]International relations;May 14, 1974: Washington Post Reveals That the Nixons Received Jewelry Gifts[01480] [c]Government;May 14, 1974: Washington Post Reveals That the Nixons Received Jewelry Gifts[01480] Cox, Tricia Nixon Eisenhower, Julie Nixon Cheshire, Maxine Faisal Fahd Saud, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al-

The relationship between Richard Nixon and the Saudi Arabian royal family began before Nixon became president. Adnan Khashoggi, a billionaire Saudi Arabian businessman with ties to the Saudi royal family, gave about $60,000 worth of jewelry to Nixon’s daughters and made a $1 million campaign Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Richard Nixon[Nixon] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1968 Campaign contributions;Richard Nixon contribution to Nixon in 1968. However, the law in question did not apply at that time, because Nixon and Khashoggi were both private citizens, and candidates were not required to disclose campaign contributions. Nixon’s youngest daughter, Julie, married David Eisenhower, grandson of former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower, on December 22, 1968, but Nixon was still only the president-elect at this time, so the law did not apply to any of the Nixon-Eisenhower wedding gifts.

Nixon was inaugurated president of the United States on January 20, 1969. In October of 1969, Prince Fahd, half-brother of King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, gave First Lady Pat Nixon a parure—a matching set of emerald and diamond jewelry consisting of a necklace, bracelet, and ring, and a pair of earrings and a brooch. The set was appraised at $52,400 by Harry Winston, one of the most famous jewelers in the world, in 1970. In May of 1971, King Faisal gave the first lady a pair of marquise diamond and cabochon ruby shoulder-length, dangling earrings and a strand of pearls possibly worth as much as $100,000. The Nixon’s oldest daughter, Tricia, wore them at a 1972 reelection fund-raiser. In July, 1972, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, another half-brother of King Faisal, gave the first lady a diamond bracelet, gave Tricia a diamond and sapphire pin, and gave Julie a diamond and ruby pin. On another occasion, Faisal gave the first lady a diamond-studded platinum watch, using Winston as an intermediary. When Tricia married Ed Cox in 1971, the shah of Iran gave her a diamond and emerald brooch, and the emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie Haile Selassie, gave her a silver vase. No appraisal was ever done on the latter gifts, and the three women wore the jewelry from the Saudi Arabian royal family at several official White House social functions. The record-keeping for gifts in the Nixon White House was very poor.

In 1970, Washington Post columnist Maxine Cheshire received a tip that the shah of Iran had given the first lady diamonds and emeralds worth millions of dollars. Cheshire checked to see if the jewels were turned over to the U.S. government, as the law mandates; there was no record that the jewels existed at all. Her inquiries eventually led to a member of Betty Ford Ford, Betty ’s staff. Betty Ford’s husband, Gerald, became vice president of the United States following the resignation of Spiro T. Agnew Agnew, Spiro T. [p]Agnew, Spiro T.;resignation of vice presidency in 1973, and her staff member confirmed that the jewelry existed. Cheshire then found a disgruntled former employee of the White House Gifts Unit, who also confirmed the existence of the jewelry. Unfortunately, neither was trained in appraising jewelry, nor could they be 100 percent certain that the Nixons were not wearing costume jewelry on those occasions. The second source also disputed that the gift-giver was the shah, insisting that the person who provided the gifts was an Arab.

Cheshire then went to the head of the White House Gifts Unit and, to her surprise, found the woman in charge of the unit quite cooperative. The employee agreed to provide a photograph of the jewelry given to the first lady by Prince Fahd. Cheshire discovered that the jewelry was kept in a wall safe in Nixon’s White House bedroom until March, 1974, in violation of the 1966 law. On the recommendation of White House attorney Fred Buzhardt, the jewelry was transferred to the custody of the chief of protocol in the executive office building. Cheshire reported on May 14 that the jewelry from the Saudi Arabian royal family had not been officially recorded until March 8. Deputy press secretary Gerald Warren denied any impropriety and said that the first lady and her daughters always planned to leave the jewelry in federal custody when Nixon left office.

When Nixon resigned the presidency because of the Watergate Nixon, Richard [p]Nixon, Richard;and Watergate[Watergate] scandal later that year, the Nixon family turned over to the U.S. State State Department, U.S. Department 824 gifts that were given to them by foreign officials. However, 2,632 gifts were kept by the Nixons on the grounds that they were given by foreigners who were not government officials. Among the gifts retained by the Nixon family were a silver tray from Pepsi-Cola bottlers of Japan; a gold centerpiece from the Philippine sugar industry; a pair of gold cuff links from the former head of Mitsui, a Japanese conglomerate; and an oil painting and fifteenth century jewelry from the chairman of Lepetit Chemical Company of Milan, Italy.

A 1978 probe by the U.S. General Services Administration concluded that all the gifts received by the Nixon family during his presidency were accounted for. Tricia Nixon Cox was allowed to keep two wedding presents: the vase from Haile Selassie and a rare temple carving from South Vietnam’s president.

Impact

At the time, the gifts scandal was considered minor compared to Watergate, but considering that foreign policy, specifically regarding the Middle East, could have been jeopardized, the gifts scandal was found to be more significant than first realized. No legal action was taken against Nixon or members of his family. After Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, the jewelry was placed in the custody of the federal government. Any violation of the law became moot after the new president, Ford, Gerald R. [p]Ford, Gerald R.;pardon of Nixon Gerald Ford, Gerald R. [p]Ford, Gerald R.;and Watergate[Watergate] Ford, fully and unconditionally pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while president. Furthermore, no evidence existed showing that Nixon changed his Middle East policy because of those gifts. In fact, he had infuriated King Faisal when he asked the U.S. Congress for a $2.2 billion aid package to Israel in 1973.

That the Nixons were exposed by The Washington Post led many elected officials to take notice and reveal the gifts they, too, had received from foreign leaders. Most notably, former vice president Agnew Agnew, Spiro T. and Senators Hubert Humphrey and J. William Fulbright began relinquishing gifts they had received from foreign officials.

The Nixon Gift Collection is stored at the National Archives and Record Administration in College Park, Maryland, and items from the collection are periodically lent to museums around the United States. Most of the jewelry from the Saudi Arabian royal family is on permanent display at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California. Nixon, Richard [p]Nixon, Richard;gifts received Nixon, Pat Washington Post;and Richard Nixon[Nixon]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“The Case of the Diamond and Emerald Parure.” Time, May 27, 1974. Contemporary account of the jewelry scandal that implies the scandal was trivial.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Charlton, Linda. “Gifts of Jewels to Nixons from Saudis Disclosed.” The New York Times, May 15, 1974. Contemporary account of the scandal that includes a photograph of the jewelry from Prince Fahd and another of Pat Nixon wearing the earrings and necklace.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cheshire, Maxine, with John Greenya. Maxine Cheshire: Reporter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978. One-third of Cheshire’s autobiography is devoted to her pursuit of the jewelry scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lippman, Thomas W. Inside the Mirage: America’s Fragile Partnership with Saudi Arabia. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2004. History of the close relationship between the governments of the United States and Saudi Arabia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Summers, Anthony, with Robyn Swan. The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard M. Nixon. New York: Viking, 2000. This critical biography of Nixon recounts allegations of immoral and illegal activity made against the disgraced president. Includes discussion of the jewelry scandal.

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