White House tries to clamp down on age-old practice of stealing Air Force One items: ‘Everyone does it’ | US politics

A White House staffer recently met a reporter for a covert assignment by the statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square.

But the House of Cards-esque rendezvous was not staged to hand over state secrets, or leak presidential gossip, or even to spread dirt on Joe Biden’s opponents. The item handed over – an embroidered pillowcase from Air Force One – was handed back, by the reporter involved.

So said Politico, reporting an attempt to clamp down on theft of branded items from the presidential plane.

The meeting by the Jackson statue, Politico said, came about after US air force crew members alerted the White House travel office that a west coast trip in early February ended with “several [items] missing from the press cabin”.

An email went out, described by one of no less than six anonymous sources as saying: “Hey, if you inadvertently wound up taking something off the plane by mistake, we can help facilitate a quiet return.”

The reporter who took the pillowcase had done so “probably not by accident”, Politico said. And so the meeting was arranged, the item “changed hands, and that was that”.

According to Politico, the White House press pack has long seen Air Force One as a source of souvenirs.

One unnamed current White House reporter said: “On my first flight, the person next to me was like, ‘You should take that glass.’ They were like, ‘Everyone does it.’”

Several unnamed sources, meanwhile, described to Politico a “former White House correspondent for a major newspaper” hosting a dinner party using “gold-rimmed Air Force One plates, evidently taken bit by bit over the course of some time”.

“Reporters recalled coming down the back stairs after returning to Joint Base Andrews in the evening with the sounds of clinking glassware or porcelain plates in their backpacks,” the site said.

Nor is such light-fingeredness a new phenomenon.

As long ago as 2012, the actor Allison Williams told David Letterman she once used an item swiped from the plane by her dad, the NBC News anchor Brian Williams, to get a date with a boy.

“I just thought, ‘What can I possibly bring to the table to impress this guy?’’ Williams said. “And I brought him a stolen napkin off Air Force One. So yes, pretty good. Air Force One.”

The White House also has problems with guests helping themselves. In 2015, the Washington Post reported “the reality of entertaining” in the executive mansion: “Despite the elegant setting, or maybe because of it, there’s always a risk items might disappear into visitors’ pockets, purses and other hiding places. After all … who does not want a souvenir, a memento from their brush with power?”

Describing “small outbreaks of petty thievery”, the Post said: “Most of the pilfering is minor: plush towels embossed with the presidential seal from the washroom, or cheap spoons the White House rents from a caterer for large parties. But other items are pricier, including … place-card holders, small silver spoons and cut-glass pieces dangling from sconces in the women’s washroom.

“On Air Force One, everything from tumbler glasses to pillowcases have been taken by some of the reporters, staff and lawmakers who have traveled aboard the presidential aircraft.”

Politico also reported a widely told story about a “senator in the front of the plane … taking everything not bolted down”.

A former administration official, speaking anonymously, said there was not “a massive amount of theft” by the current press pack, but more “petty, chronic grift”.

Nonetheless, authorities are attempting to clamp down, Politico said, with Kelly O’Donnell of NBC, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, issuing a “terse reminder” that taking items from Air Force One is not allowed.

O’Donnell also told reporters goods stamped with Air Force One logos could be bought commercially.

But, another unnamed former administration official said, “the glasses that are sold on the [US air force] site aren’t the same as the ones they have on the plane. Same with the blankets. That’s why the ones on board are so coveted”.

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