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Bush aide details alleged vandalism
List is response to questions over credibility of complaints
By Mike Allen
THE WASHINGTON POST
WASHINGTON, June 3 — White House officials released a list yesterday of damage they say was done by outgoing staffers of President Bill Clinton, including obscene graffiti in six offices, a 20-inch-wide presidential seal ripped off a wall, 10 sliced telephone lines and 100 inoperable computer keyboards.

     
     
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Most of the incidents described by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer were said to have occurred in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House.

       FOR MONTHS, Democrats had questioned the administration’s credibility because officials refused to document allegations of vandalism they made in the week after President Bush’s inauguration. In April, the General Accounting Office said it was unable to confirm damage, in part because of what it called a “lack of records” from the White House.
       Most of the incidents described yesterday by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer were said to have occurred in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House. Pornographic or obscene greetings were left on 15 telephone lines in the offices of the vice president and White House counsel and in the scheduling and advance offices, Fleischer said. As a precaution, all phones were disabled and reprogrammed, he said.
       The details were provided to The Washington Post after several days of inquiries about the degree of White House cooperation with the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress. The GAO said in April that it “found no damage” to White House real estate. The GAO did not prepare a report but said in a three-paragraph letter that it could reach no further conclusions because the White House said it had no written record of damage. The letter did not mention the Eisenhower building, where most of the damage had been reported.
       White House officials had said they did not release the information sooner because of Bush’s desire to “move forward and not live in the past.”
       
LONG-RUNNING SOURCE OF CONTENTION
       The vandalism brouhaha started the day after Bush was inaugurated with boasts by Clinton staffers that they had removed the “W” key caps from their computers, and it escalated with televised allegations by Fleischer on Jan. 25 that departing aides had “cut wires” and performed other acts that the administration was “cataloguing.”
       The episode seemed to deflate on Jan. 26, when Bush said the only damage was that there “might have been a prank or two” and Fleischer said the catalogue consisted of mental notes, kept by one aide.
       Fleischer said yesterday the written list was prepared Friday, based on the recollections of officials and career government employees, in response to Democrats’ “suggestion that the Bush White House made things up.”

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       “The White House will defend itself and the career employees,” Fleischer said. “We tried to be gracious, but the last administration would not take graciousness. By getting the information out, we hope to put an end to this, so everyone can go on with the policy and business of the government.”
       Clinton administration officials said the size of the list did not measure up to the luridness of the allegations. Former presidential press secretary Joe Lockhart said the vandalism allegations were part of a failed Bush strategy to “make the new administration look good by comparison to the last one.”
       “If anyone did anything that harmed government property, that’s wrong,” Lockhart said yesterday. “But to have suggested there was an organized effort that ran into hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage is grossly wrong and misleading.”
       
ONLY ONE INCIDENT IN WHITE HOUSE
       The only incident Fleischer described in the White House itself was a photocopier in the West Wing that had pictures of naked people interspersed with blank photocopy paper so deep in the tray that they were still popping out weeks after the inauguration.
       Fleischer said that workers were able to affix new “W” caps to many computers but that 100 keyboards had to be replaced. Fleischer also said five brass nameplates bearing the presidential seal were missing in the Eisenhower building.
       Fleischer said 75 phones had been “tampered with,” which he described as having the number plates removed and the lines plugged into the wrong wall outlet. “Nobody knew their number, and nobody could call in,” he said. Six fax machines were moved around in a similar fashion, he said.
       Fleischer said that two historic doorknobs were missing and that desks and furniture were overturned in 20 percent of the Eisenhower offices. He said six to eight 14-foot loads of usable office supplies, including 6,000 binders, were recovered from the trash and are being used. He said no estimate had been made of the dollar value of the damage.
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       Initially, the allegations of vandalism at the White House were relished by Bush supporters as symbols of the immaturity and recklessness of the Clinton administration. Four months later, with the White House still refusing to substantiate the allegations, there had been a stark turnabout: The episode was being invoked by Democrats to question the new administration’s tactics and veracity.
       On Friday, Rep. Anthony D. Weiner (D-N.Y.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, stood in the rain outside the White House complex with four low-level Clinton administration workers and called for Bush to apologize. Weiner, who attracted five television cameras to his news conference, asserted in a letter to Bush that the new administration “deliberately misled the American people and smeared the names of public servants who were guilty of nothing.”
       
DEMOCRATS ALLEGE THREATS
       Democratic sources said the Bush administration has recently threatened, through a private conversation with a Clinton official, to release photographs of damaged property. The White House released two snapshots yesterday of the White House counsel’s office that showed a lot of trash but no discernible damage.
       The vandalism allegations proved to be a political tale that would not die, despite the absence of any nourishment in the form of new facts. On Jan. 29, Rep. Robert L. Barr Jr. (R-Ga.), one of the first House members to push for Clinton’s impeachment, asked the GAO to look into the matter. The GAO’s first stop was the General Services Administration, which manages government property.
‘If anyone did anything that harmed government property, that’s wrong. But to have suggested there was an organized effort that ran into hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage is grossly wrong and misleading.’
JOE LOCKHART
Clinton presidential spokesman
       The GSA said in a letter to Barr on March 2 that “the condition of the real property was consistent with what we would expect to encounter when tenants vacate office space after an extended occupancy.”
       In a letter to Barr on April 27, the GAO said the White House had said there was “no record of damage that may have been deliberately caused by the Clinton administration.”
       Bernard L. Ungar, the agency’s director of physical infrastructure issues, said in an interview that White House officials had told him some items “had to be repaired, such as telephones and computer keyboards, but that there was no record of damages.”
       
NOTHING IN WRITING
       Fleischer said the agency had only “asked us if we had anything in writing to provide.”
       “The answer is ‘no’ because we did not keep track in writing — consciously so, because the president wanted to look forward and not look backward,” Fleischer said.
       After news accounts last month about the GAO’s findings, Clinton administration alumni used television and newspaper commentaries to denounce the news media for having trumpeted the allegations. One of the participants in Weiner’s news conference, Matthew P. Donoghue, 38, who formerly worked at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, recalled the “slight digs at parties” and accusatory questions from relatives that haunted him after the vandalism allegations.
       Fleischer, whose comments about “cut wires” had stoked the reports, said Thursday, “I stand by that statement.”
       “Sometimes, stories just are like water running downhill and you can try to slow down the press, but you can’t stop them,” Fleischer said. “All the White House comments were aimed at moving forward. It was all in the context of drawing reporters back from the story, because that’s what the president wanted.”
       
       © 2001 The Washington Post Company
       
       
   
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