That Missing Trump Portrait? Found, Next to Some Old Yoga Mats.
In the bowels of the Trump National Doral hotel in Miami, in a small space leading to electrical rooms, an enormous portrait of the 45th president of the United States rests on a piece of deteriorating purple-colored foam.
Stored next to a stack of old yoga mats, the former president’s portrait sits underneath a halogen light and the metal sheen of air ducts, propped between two doors with placards that read “ELECTRICAL ROOM No Storage.”
The tiny room is overwhelmed by the grandiose portrait, standing about eight feet tall and featuring a grinning Donald J. Trump.
While the portrait has apparently sat there ignored for months, back in Washington, it is at the center of a debate over the laws and ethics covering presidential gifts.
Just last week, the artwork was listed as one of about 100 gifts from foreign governments, worth over $250,000 in total, that went missing after Mr. Trump vacated the White House, according to a report released by Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability.
The Democrats want all the unaccounted for items handled in accordance with U.S. law. To prevent the bribery of or undue influence over U.S. government officials, any gifts from foreign nations worth over $415 must be reported to the State Department.
If government officials want to keep the gifts, they must pay for them at their appraised value.
The portrait was a present from El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, given to Mr. Trump his last year in office.
While the hunt is still on for many of the missing items, The New York Times found the artwork only a few days after profiling the Salvadoran artist who painted it. After that article was published, a reader emailed a tip that he had seen the portrait at the hotel back in October.
The reader, who requested anonymity so he would not be barred from future visits to the hotel, said that he and his son had attended a golf tournament last fall at the Doral and decided to have a peek around the grandiose property. They began opening up random doors to discover ornate ballrooms, marble clad hallways and wooden furniture with golden filigree.
When they pulled back another gold-handled door, they discovered Mr. Trump, or his painted likeness anyway, standing in the Oval Office.
The Times sent a reporter to the Doral on Thursday to see if the portrait was still stored in this obscure spot. Yes, there it was, next to yoga mats piled up to one side and collecting dust. The purple foam patch the portrait is resting on, ostensibly to protect the gold frame, is starting to show some wear and tear, crumbling a bit onto the floor.
The portrait was painted by Francisco Antonio López Benavides, 59, who dabbles in both surrealism and what he calls hyper-realistic art.
In an interview with The Times after Thursday’s discovery, Mr. López said he was excited to learn that his painting had been one of the gifts that Mr. Trump apparently took with him from the White House. He said he was “flattered” that it was the subject of the Democrats’ report, which listed the presents given to Mr. Trump from foreign governments, including expensive jewelry from Saudi Arabia and golf clubs from Japan.
“I’m not a politician, as you know, so this is weird for me,” he said, explaining that as an artist, he is not used to the attention and being in the middle of a political scandal.
Mr. López has no formal training as an artist and was raised in a poor town where paints were not sold, only pencils. His first painting was thanks to a box of oil paints given to him by an American missionary who tried to adopt him; his father refused the offer.
Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability say that the regulations that oversee such gifting were violated.
A spokesperson for Mr. Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A hotel representative also did not provide a comment.
“I‘m going to tell you what my heart feels as an artist,” Mr. López said, when asked how he felt about the portrait sitting outside the electrical rooms of the Doral hotel for seemingly at least five months.
“I am happy that the painting is intact, it isbeautiful, precious,” he said. It “is my greatest wish that everything will be better in the world and that this painting will be with President Trump, because it is a gift from my president, Nayib Bukele, and I am a part of it. We are all President Trump and President Bukele.”