Report reveals routine theft of items from Air Force One by reporters seeking souvenirs

 March 30, 2024

President Joe Biden's White House is reportedly cracking down on an alleged theft ring in the Washington D.C. area that has been operating with apparent impunity for years.

A recent report revealed that members of the White House press corps, among others, have been routinely stealing items from Air Force One that bear the insignia of the presidential plane to keep as souvenirs, according to Mediaite.

The purportedly commonplace pilfering has become so rampant recently that the White House quietly complained to the head of the White House Correspondents Association, who in turn quietly sent a letter to members to advise them against further thefts and to provide an opportunity to return any previously stolen items.

Rampant thievery by reporters on Air Force One

It was Politico's West Wing Playbook that revealed in a Thursday report the "real D.C. crime wave" that was occurring with the routine theft of various items from Air Force One that were embossed, embroidered, or engraved with the famous jet's logo.

That includes everything from "whiskey tumblers and wine glasses" to dinner plates and silverware or even "pillowcases" -- or, as was shared about one unnamed U.S. senator, "taking everything not bolted down."

The report included multiple anonymously sourced tales of such thefts, including a former correspondent for a "major newspaper" who hosted a dinner party at their own D.C. residence that featured "gold-rimmed Air Force One plates, evidently taken bit by bit over the course of some time."

There were also accounts from several other reporters of hearing "the sounds of clinking glassware or porcelain plates in their backpacks" while exiting Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews.

"On my first flight, the person next to me was like, 'You should take that glass,'" one current White House correspondent told the outlet. "They were like: 'Everyone does it.'"

Warning sent to reporters after White House complaint

The Politico report noted that after a "multi-day West Coast swing" in February, the Air Force One crew took inventory of the plane's contents and alerted the White House that several items were missing, which prompted a member of the White House press office to inform WHCA President Kelly O'Donnell, an NBC News correspondent, who then issued a reminder to members that stealing items from Air Force One was not permitted.

An email to WHCA members reportedly "included a terse reminder to colleagues that taking items off the plane was not allowed and reflected poorly on the press corps as a whole, several individuals who saw the off-the-record email confirmed."

That email also included an opportunity for members to return any stolen items, no questions asked, which purportedly led to a secretive exchange of an embroidered pillowcase between an unnamed reporter and a White House staffer near the memorial for President Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square.

One former administration official told the West Wing Playbook that there hadn't been "a massive amount of theft. It was just a petty, chronic grift. But we appreciated that Kelly O took it seriously and sent that note."

Not a new problem, and not just Air Force One

According to The Guardian, the reported theft of items from Air Force One isn't a particularly new problem, as it recalled a moment in 2012 when actress Allison Williams, the daughter of former NBC News anchor Brian Williams, shared with late-night host David Letterman how she had used a "stolen napkin off Air Force One" that belonged to her father to try and impress a guy she was dating.

Nor is the rampant theft constrained only to Air Force One, as the outlet cited a 2015 Washington Post report that detailed "small outbreaks of petty thievery" during White House events during which items featuring the presidential seal -- ranging from "plush towels" to "place-card holders, small silver spoons and cut-glass pieces dangling from sconces in the women’s washroom" -- would come up missing afterward.

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