- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2001

What began three days ago as a story about "pranks" blossomed yesterday into an account of serious vandalism and thievery at the White House by embittered Clinton administration employees.
Bush administration officials said they are "cataloging" incidents that could constitute crimes, including the theft of china and silverware from the presidential Boeing 747 that took President Clinton and his party to New York after the inauguration of George W. Bush as president.
Before Clinton workers left the White House, someone cut telephone lines, overturned desks, littered offices with trash and scribbled lewd graffiti on office walls, say those with firsthand knowledge of the vandalism.
Faceplates identifying extensions from one telephone to another were switched, pornographic images were loaded into computer printers and filing cabinets were glued shut.
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer declined to answer repeated questions yesterday about exactly what the Bush people found when they arrived at the White House.
He denied a report that "an official investigation" is under way, but that might be a matter of what the meaning of "investigation" is.
"There is no investigation," he said. "What we are doing is cataloging that which took place."
The "cataloging" will not be the basis for criminal charges, but rather "just to figure out what took place."
Nevertheless, the Bush administration asked staffers to report any vandalism they find to superiors. Mr. Fleischer said the administration is not looking to cast blame.
"The president understands that transitions can be times of difficulty and strong emotion. And he's going to approach it in that vein. The question is, do you have [to] blame somebody in this town? … President Bush is not going to come to Washington for the point of blaming somebody in this town. And it's a different way of governing; it's a different way of leading."
That sentiment differed sharply from expressions of the day before, when Mr. Fleischer expressed concern about computer keyboards that were missing the letter "W," taken by some Clinton staffers as a gibe at the new president.
"If they're not found, the computer doesn't work. That's government property that is now going to have to be replaced or fixed" at taxpayer expense, he said.
That concern also prompted an angry response yesterday from a government-watchdog group as reports of more widespread vandalism grew.
"This is an outrage for taxpayers," said Sean Rushton, media director for Citizens Against Government Waste. "We should not be using general revenue to pay for vandalism. The individuals who did this should pay."
Mr. Rushton said the "unprecedented" trashing of the White House "surpasses even the normal excesses of the Clinton administration. What a gross ending."
Reports of vandalism escalated yesterday after Matt Drudge posted an item on his Internet site titled "White House offices left 'trashed': Porn bombs, lewd messages." And while top Bush officials deflected questions, others in the White House confirmed the reports, which grew as the day went on.
Sources told Reuters news agency that some offices were emblazoned with makeshift signs. One said "Office of Strategerie," a reference to a "Saturday Night Live" television skit, in which Mr. Bush is portrayed as someone who speaks poorly. Another said "Office of Subliminable Cyber Space." Paper in a Xerox machine had an unflattering picture of Mr. Bush printed on it.
Mr. Fleischer also acknowledged "there was a phone call made to the office of the vice president," but refused to say who placed the call.
There were reports that the vice president's offices in the Old Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House, had trash everywhere and that Tipper Gore had called Lynne V. Cheney, wife of Vice President Richard B. Cheney, to apologize.
Said Mr. Fleischer: "You know, I really stopped paying attention to all the different places."
The Bush officials are "cataloging" items missing from the president's airplane, dispatched by President Bush to take Mr. Clinton and his party to the Clintons' new home in New York.
Missing from the plane on arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport, The Washington Times was told by crewmen earlier this week, were all the porcelain china, silverware, salt and pepper shakers, blankets and pillowcases most of it bearing the presidential seal.
Even a cache of Colgate toothpaste, without the presidential seal, was taken from a compartment beneath the plane's sink.
Former Clinton staffers discounted the reports.
"I was one of the last Clinton folks to check out on our final day and I did not see any vandalism or even problems with computers," said Mark Lindsay, who was head of the White House Office of Administration.
"Obviously, there are people who have strong feelings and there are people who have messy offices you grow comfortable in an office that you have worked in for eight years. But since we were working up to the last minute, there was not a lot of time to move people in and out.
"But I did not see one instance of vandalism and it's unfortunate this is getting attention."
Karen Tramontano, the counselor to Mr. Clinton's chief of staff, John Podesta, told the Associated Press she was in the West Wing and adjacent office buildings late the night before Mr. Clinton left office, and also saw no vandalism.
"We left everything in good condition," she said. "We all left our offices intact."
John McCaslin contributed to this report.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide