- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2001

Former President Clinton is offering to repay the cost of vandalism by his outgoing staff when they left their offices on Jan. 20, once he is given a complete list from the Bush White House of the damage reportedly done.

Mr. Clinton's offer follows reports, initially confirmed by a Bush White House spokesman, that officials vandalized the White House before they departed, then stripped a presidential plane of anything that would serve as a souvenir during Mr. Clinton's final flight as president.

President Bush has ordered that no action be taken against officials of Mr. Clinton and Al Gore, the former vice president, in effect granting his first presidential "pardon." Mr. Bush's order was an attempt to calm the massive uproar in the media over reported theft and damage in the White House that was beginning to overshadow the opening days of his administration and sour relations with his predecessor.

Mr. Clinton, however, has asked for a detailed accounting of what went wrong during his staff's departure amid suspicions that the Bush camp overplayed the charges against his aides. The Sunday Telegraph has learned that the former president's office contacted the White House on Friday to request a written report.

Jake Siewert, Mr. Clinton's former press secretary, said: "We'd like a fuller explanation of what, if anything, was amiss. I was one of the last to leave the West Wing, and I saw nothing obviously wrong. If there was any serious vandalism, it's something President Clinton would like to hear about and have some way of redressing."

Mr. Clinton stepped in after it emerged that what first appeared to be mere "pranks" by outgoing officials including the removal of the letter W, Mr. Bush's middle initial, from computer keyboards may have been something more serious, with estimates of damage ranging up to $200,000.

Although most of the offices vacated last weekend at first appeared to be merely "messy," closer examination revealed the extent of the vindictive damage. Telephone lines had been cut, desks overturned and lewd graffiti scribbled on the walls, according to eyewitness reports. Telephone extensions were switched to cause confusion, pornographic images emerged when computer printers were switched on and filing cabinets were glued shut. Unflattering pictures of Mr. Bush were interspersed with stacks of photocopier paper.

The Washington Times reported last week that almost everything that could be taken was removed from the president's aircraft, which was sent by Mr. Bush to carry Mr. Clinton and his team to New York after the inauguration ceremony on Jan. 20. Among the items reported missing were china, silverware, blankets and pillow cases, most of them bearing the presidential seal.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said it was unfortunate that taxpayers would have to foot the bill for repairs of government property. Late last week he backpedalled, however, saying he doubted that any action would follow.

"The president understands that transitions can be times of difficulty and strong emotions, and he's going to approach it in that vein," he said.

The reports caused a furor among Republicans, already incensed by Mr. Clinton's flurry of last-minute pardons and reports that he and his wife accepted $190,000 in gifts last year.

They also angered many in the media, who have said the individuals concerned, not the taxpayer, should bear the cost.

Accounts of the damage were hotly disputed by former Clinton officials. One long-serving White House official said, "Other than the offices being dirty and big bags of trash, I didn't notice anything." Mr. Siewert said that newspaper reporters were among those on board Mr. Clinton's final flight, and that they noticed nothing out of the ordinary.

"At one point as we were about to drink some toasts we hit turbulence and eight or 10 glasses on a tray fell off and broke," he said. "I have since checked with the stewards, and apart from maybe one or two hand towels missing, that was it."

Arriving Bush staff found signs on doors, based on Mr. Bush's habit of mangling his words, which read, "Office of Strategery," "Office of Subliminable Messages" and "Division of Uniting."

Mr. Bush himself seemed unperturbed by anything he found. "There might have been a prank or two," he said. "You know, maybe somebody put a cartoon on the wall. But that's OK. It's time now to move forward."

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