The USA is the largest consumer of legally, internationally-traded wildlife. A proportion of this trade consists of species listed in the Appendices of CITES, and recorded in the CITES Trade Database. Using this resource, we quantified wildlife entering the USA for 82 of the most frequently recorded wildlife products and a range of taxonomic groups during 1979–2014. We examined trends in legal trade and seizures of illegally traded items over time, and relationships between trade and four national measures of biodiversity. We found that: (1) there is an overall positive relationship between legal imports and seizures; (2) Asia was the main region exporting CITES-listed wildlife products to the USA; (3) bears, crocodilians and other mammals (i.e. other than Ursidae, Felidae, Cetacea, Proboscidea, Primates or Rhinocerotidae) increased in both reported legal trade and seizures over time; (4) legal trade in live specimens was reported to be primarily from captive-produced, artificially-propagated or ranched sources, whereas traded meat was primarily wild sourced; (5) both seizures and legally traded items of felids and elephants decreased over time; and (6) volumes of both legally traded and seized species were correlated with four attributes of exporting countries: species endemism, species richness, number of IUCN threatened species, and country size. The goal of our analysis was to inform CITES decision-making and species conservation efforts.