- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

During President Bush’s State of the Union address, Claude Allen had a coveted box seat as a guest of the first lady. He sat there with an embarrassing secret.

For weeks as he worked side by side with Mr. Bush on policy that would be featured in that Jan. 31 address, he carried the secret that was about to threaten the reputation he built during a swiftly rising career in Republican government.

What Mr. Allen knew and apparently didn’t tell others at the White House is that he could be in legal trouble. Police say Mr. Allen was caught trying to get refunds on items he hadn’t bought at a retail store in the Maryland suburbs, just 30 days before the State of the Union address he was helping to craft.

Mr. Allen was charged with “returning” merchandise he didn’t buy at a Target store on Jan. 2. White House officials said he told the chief of staff and presidential counsel about the charges within 24 hours but insisted it was a credit card mix-up because of confusion over his recent address change and would be cleared up soon.

White House officials say they didn’t know the truth about the accusations until last week, after Mr. Allen, 45, had resigned from his $161,000-a-year job as Mr. Bush’s domestic policy adviser. The felony charges have shocked those who knew Mr. Allen and considered him devoted to God, family and country.

“Nothing from my personal experiences with him would ever have led me to question his integrity, his morals, his honesty,” said Alex Azar, a Health and Human Services Department deputy secretary who worked with Mr. Allen during all five years of the Bush presidency. “He was always regarded as someone with real integrity and somebody with a keen moral compass.”

Mr. Allen is the great-grandson of slaves who was raised a Democrat in a poor D.C. neighborhood. In college, he says, he became a born-again Christian and a Republican. He rode those ideologies up through positions in state and federal government, all the way to the White House, where last year he became the highest-ranking black to serve in the West Wing.

Mr. Allen was a conservative who supported a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex “marriage” and supported the right of Christian military chaplains to mention Jesus in prayers at military institutions and ceremonies. He drew the ire of liberals, but those with whom he worked called him a humble team player who was helpful to staff on all levels. Some of his co-workers, sorry to see him leave, cried at his going-away party, held last month in the West Wing.

His explanation that he wanted to spend more time with his family made sense to those who knew him. He complained that he barely saw his two sons and two daughters, ages 2 to 14, with the long hours spent serving the president. Mr. Allen and his Barbados-born wife, Jannese, recently moved to a nearly $1 million home in the Maryland suburbs to be closer to their church, the nondenominational Covenant Life.

His wife home-schools their four children, and Mr. Allen told people that having the family close to the church’s resources was more important than the 10 miles it would add to his commute to the White House.

In his time of trouble, Mr. Allen has asked the church’s pastoral team to care for him, senior pastor Joshua Harris wrote on the church’s Web site (www.covlife.org). “Our concern is for his soul,” Mr. Harris wrote. “Our desire — and Claude shares this — is for him to walk with humility and integrity.”

Friends say Mr. Allen spent hours at the Covenant Life Church on Sunday, the day after Mr. Bush said publicly that he was shocked and deeply disappointed to learn that Mr. Allen may not have told officials at the White House the truth about what happened.

Mr. Allen first worked in the Bush administration as a deputy secretary at the Health and Human Services Department. Bill Pierce, who was an HHS spokesman during Mr. Allen’s time there, said Mr. Allen was particularly interested in ensuring that the poor and minorities had equal access to health care and information, fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS and promoting abstinence education among young people. Mr. Allen argued that adults send a mixed message if they tell children to abstain from sex but to use a condom if they were sexually active.

“Claude liked to talk about how important it was to delay sexual debut for young people,” Mr. Pierce said. Mr. Allen felt it was important to stop the spread of disease and because of the negative psychological and social effects that have been shown to accompany early sexual activity, Mr. Pierce said.

Mr. Bush nominated Mr. Allen to be a federal appeals court judge in 2003, but his nomination was blocked in the Senate in a dispute over state representation on the court. Democrats also objected to Mr. Allen’s short legal experience of about seven years.

At his confirmation hearing, Mr. Allen also had to answer for a statement he made when he was press secretary on Sen. Jesse Helms’ 1984 campaign. Mr. Allen told a North Carolina newspaper that Mr. Helms’ opponent, Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., was vulnerable because of his links “with the queers.” Mr. Allen testified that he didn’t mean to disparage homosexuals but was describing the odd people involved in Mr. Hunt’s campaign.

Mr. Allen also was asked how he felt when Mr. Helms voted against legislation that created the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. “It was the most difficult day for me in my life,” Mr. Allen replied.

Mr. Allen has not responded to interview requests, so it is not clear whether he ranks his recent days as worse. According to charging documents filed by police in Montgomery County, Mr. Allen admitted to a Target Corp. investigator that he fraudulently returned merchandise that he didn’t buy.

Police said that on at least 25 occasions, Mr. Allen made fraudulent returns, worth at least $5,000 in all, for items such as a Bose theater system, a Kodak printer and a men’s jacket. They said his scam was to buy items, take them to his car, then return to the store with his receipt. He would select the same items, then take them to the store return desk and show the receipt from the first purchase to obtain a refund.

His attorney has denied the charges, and Mr. Allen maintains to friends that he will be vindicated, said one longtime friend who did not want to be quoted by name.

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