A top aide to President Donald Trump was seen leaving the White House with a large framed photograph, stirring controversy as former officials alleged that the move was “illegal” and said the artwork belonged to the National Archives.
Peter Navarro, a top trade official in the Trump administration, was photographed by a Reuters journalist leaving the White House grounds earlier this week with the image of Mr Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
It is not immediately clear whether or not Mr Navarro paid the US government for the photograph before removing it from the White House. Requests for comment from The Independent were not returned.
But some people who saw the Trump official leaving the White House with the photo declined to give him the benefit of the doubt and alleged that the move was illegal. These included Kenneth Baer, associate director of the Office of Management and Budget under former President Barack Obama.
This is illegal. These photos belong to the American people, and go to the National Archives.
(I know this as when I left the WH in 2012, I wanted to take with me the photo I had of @BarackObama and the 2008 World Champion @Phillies) https://t.co/ab6LFCtGXQ
— Kenneth Baer (@KennethBaer) January 14, 2021
“This is illegal. These photos belong to the American people, and go to the National Archives,” Mr Baer wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. “I know this as when I left the WH in 2012, I wanted to take with me the photo I had of @BarackObama and the 2008 World Champion @Phillies.”
Other items were seen being carried out of the White House – the wife of one official was seen loading a stuffed pheasant into a car – though the specific circumstances surrounding each item remained unclear.
Some former officials said it was possible to buy certain government photographs, including Jon Wolfsthal, a national security aide under Mr Obama, who recalled in a response to Mr Baer how he purchased artwork before leaving the White House.
“The frame has to stay,” he noted.
More stuff (appears to be Abe Lincoln bust) leaving the West Wing this afternoon. pic.twitter.com/4fjkVPmiMS
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) January 14, 2021
A photo posted to Twitter by CNN’s Jim Acosta showed officials removing a bust of former President Abraham Lincoln, though reports later indicated the artwork would be returned to a museum.
Incoming presidents typically choose new artwork and are provided a budget to redecorate the White House.
The Trump administration was seen throughout the week packing up offices across the West Wing ahead of Inauguration Day, as President-elect Joe Biden was set to be sworn in on the footsteps of the US Capitol.
Just last week, a pro-Trump mob of violent rioters stormed the building threatening to kill heads of government in a quest to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
An estimated 20,000 National Guard troops have since been deployed to the nation’s capital ahead of the inauguration ceremonies, as officials warned of additional plans for demonstrations in Washington and at state capitol buildings across the country.