- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2001

A federal government oversight agency is preparing to investigate vandalism at the White House by departing Clinton staffers, despite efforts by Bush officials to downplay the ongoing saga.

Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, yesterday asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to begin an "immediate investigation" into the cost of the vandalism, which included cut telephone lines, overturned desks, trashed offices and the removal of labels on thousands of phones, rendering them inoperable.

The GAO, which said yesterday it had not yet assigned anyone to handle the request, earlier had said it could conduct an audit of the damage and the cost to taxpayers if a member of Congress so requested.

"While some damage can be expected during the course of the transition and moving process, I am concerned this damage may have been deliberately caused by employees of the outgoing Clinton administration," the Georgia Republican said in a letter to Comptroller General David Walker.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ernest Istook, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of a subcommittee that oversees the White House budget, today will ask another federal agency not to grant former President Bill Clinton's request for $650,000 to lease an entire floor of a swank Manhattan office building a sum that exceeds the annual amount spent on all other ex-presidents combined.

GAO spokeswoman Laura Kopelson said yesterday the agency will proceed by the book when the request to assess White House vandalism is assigned to a staffer.

"We would have to ask the White House just what went on there," she said. Ned Griffith, a GAO spokesman, said last week the agency would be required to conduct, at the very least, an initial probe of the vandalism if a member of Congress requested it.

Sources said yesterday the vandalism included the removal of labels from thousands of phones, all of which were programmed to go into certain jacks. Workers spent days figuring which phones went into which jacks. The labels were found in a pile.

Estimates of the damage have ranged in media reports from $90,000 to $200,000, but the cost has never been totaled because the White House has not compiled a complete list of the damage done by embittered Clinton staffers.

Bush administration officials said last week they were "cataloging" incidents that could constitute crimes, including the theft of china and silverware from the presidential Boeing 747 that took Mr. Clinton and his party to New York after the inauguration of Mr. Bush as president.

The next day, however, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said: "The cataloging that I mentioned, frankly, that's one person in our administrative offices who is really just keeping track in his head about things that may have taken place… . As far as we're concerned, it's over."

Bush officials have downplayed the vandalism ever since. In fact, sources said some top White House officials have gone so far as to discourage members of Congress from calling for an official investigation.

Mr. Istook, who heads the Treasury, postal and general government appropriations subcommittee that oversees the White House budget, decided yesterday that he "won't take any special action" on the vandalism, said his press secretary, Micah Swafford.

"He will review the expenses as part of the normal appropriations process," she said, meaning that the cost of the vandalism could come when the subcommittee considers the White House's next budget request.

Mr. Istook, however, will send a letter today to the General Services Administration (GSA) "expressing his concerns" over Mr. Clinton's new request for hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to pay for prime office space in New York City, Miss Swafford said.

Mr. Clinton requested and received $57,000 from the GSA to cover his office space for the first three months of his tenure as a former president which would equal $228,000 annually.

"We appropriated the money that they asked for," Mr. Istook said on ABC's "World News Tonight." "Now they're saying, 'Oh, we're actually wanting three times that amount but we're not even going to bother to come back to you to ask for it.' "

The GSA pays for one office per ex-president for life. Gerald Ford's costs $99,000, Jimmy Carter's $93,000, Ronald Reagan's $285,000 and George Bush's $147,000.

"We thought Ronald Reagan's office rental was outrageous at $285,000. Now Bill Clinton would literally double that amount. Where is this going to end?" Mr. Istook asked.

The office space Mr. Clinton wants the 56th floor of the chic 60-story Carnegie Hall Tower at 152 West 57th St., featuring views of Central Park and the Hudson River rents for $650,000. That is $26,000 more than the GSA spends on all the other ex-presidents.

A Clinton spokesman told ABC that even with the rental of the 8,300-square-foot office space slightly larger than the infield of Yankee Stadium the cost of Mr. Clinton's transition still would come in on budget. Mr. Clinton has $1.8 million to pay for all transition costs. The spokesman called reports on his desired office space just more "Clinton bashing."

But the cost to taxpayers to rent the Manhattan office space would be an annual expenditure, so it was unclear last night who would foot the bill after this year.

"The Clintons have always played with taxpayer money with a sense of entitlement," said Sean Rushton, spokesman for Citizens Against Government Waste. "They have shown an expertise at finding the loopholes and exploiting them to their advantage."

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