- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2001

The White House said yesterday it is willing to provide a written account of the slashed phone lines, graffiti-covered walls and pornographic pictures left behind by the outgoing Clinton administration.
It would be the administrations first written documentation of the vandalism, which was discovered by incoming Bush staffers 4 1/2 months ago. It would also up the ante in an already escalating game of political truth-or-dare over one of the final Clinton-Gore scandals.
Although the vandalism was widely reported by the press a few days after the Clinton staff departed, the incoming Bush team was loath to officially confirm it. President Bush did not want to be seen as dwelling on the scandal-plagued past of the Clinton-Gore administration.
But Democrats seized upon the administrations silence as proof that no vandalism occurred. Last Friday, they held a press conference at which Rep. Anthony Weiner, New York Democrat, demanded an apology from the Bush team.
That was the final straw for White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who on Saturday gave The Washington Post a verbal accounting of the damage. Yesterday, the White House told The Washington Times it would put the list in writing for the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
"If the GAO asks us to pull together information, we would be happy to do so," said White House Deputy Press Secretary Claire Buchan. "We would be happy to work with them."
The GAO tried once before to investigate the vandalism, but the White House declined to put the damages into writing.
Yesterdays about-face by the administration came after Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, renewed his request for the GAO to investigate.
"This vandalism by outgoing Clinton administration officials is unacceptable to me, and unacceptable to most law-abiding Americans," Mr. Barr told the GAO in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.
"The American taxpayers deserve to know what taxpayer property was damaged or unaccounted for during the transition process," he added. "And more importantly, [they] deserve to know that taxpayer property will be protected in the future."
GAO spokesman Jeff Nelligan said his office will "sit down with all the parties involved and go over the request, line by line."
Mr. Barr first asked the GAO to investigate on Jan. 29.
But when the agency contacted the White House, Bush officials declined to put the damage into writing, which effectively stopped the GAO investigation and a similar probe by the General Services Administration (GSA).
"We went over there in a good faith effort and asked for the written documents," Mr. Nelligan said. "And the GSA, at the same time, did the same. And the White House apparently told us there was nothing."
Emboldened by the inability of the GAO and GSA to gather hard evidence of vandalism, Democrats began to assert that the Bush administration had made up the whole story. When Mr. Weiner demanded an apology at Fridays news conference, Mr. Fleischer decided to go public with his account of damage discovered after the Clinton administration departed.
The White House spokesman confirmed that the incoming Bush team found 100 broken computer keyboards, 10 cut phone lines and six office walls that were defaced with obscene graffiti. There were also lewd messages left on telephone answering machines and pornographic pictures in the paper trays of photocopiers.
Democrats scoffed at Mr. Fleischers verbal list of damages and essentially dared the administration to put it into writing. Mr. Weiner even repeated his demands for an apology yesterday.
"Theres no 'there there," the congressman said on CNN. "You cant have a record of something that didnt happen."
"And thats why, when out of the blue, Ari Fleischer stands up and says, 'Oh, wait a minute, we do have this whole long list; what we told the GAO and the GSA in this letter is false; actually we do have this list of things, it kind of makes you wonder where the truth lies," he added.
Miss Buchan pointed out that Mr. Fleischers disclosure was prompted by Mr. Weiners demand for an apology.
She said the White House decided to confirm earlier press reports of damage as part of "an effort to put this behind us once and for all."
Mr. Barr has no intention of putting the episode behind him until the facts are documented. But he agreed that Mr. Fleischer never would have released the list if Mr. Weiner hadnt publicly demanded an apology.
"If [Mr. Weiner] hadnt had this big news conference and said the Bush administration is a bunch of liars, then there wouldnt have been any need for them to come out and say specifically: 'OK, this is what actually happened; we didnt make a big deal out of it at the time, but you challenged us and this is the truth," Mr. Barr said.
Jake Siewert, who served as press secretary for the Clinton administration, appeared on the same CNN show yesterday to defend his former colleagues.
"All I know is that I didnt see any vandalism and neither did anyone else that I talked to," he said. "So I think everyone ought to be very careful here — the press included — to stick to the facts."


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