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The Nation

Clinton Transition Left $15,000 Damage, GAO Says

June 12, 2002|MICHELLE MUNN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON -- A yearlong investigation into whether Clinton administration aides left the White House in fraternity-party disarray as they vacated the presidential premises has turned up about $15,000 in damage, according to a government report released Tuesday.

Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) asked the General Accounting Office last June to look into allegations that Clinton staffers had ripped phone cords from walls, left obscene voicemail messages, defaced bathrooms and vandalized computer keyboards by removing the ''W'' keys when they left the White House. A number of items, including a 12-inch presidential seal and several antique doorknobs, were assumed stolen.

''The Clinton administration treated the White House worse than college freshmen checking out of their dorm rooms,'' Barr said Tuesday. ''They disgraced not just themselves but the institution and the office of the presidency as well.''

The GAO concluded that ''damage, theft, vandalism, and pranks did occur in the White House during the 2001 presidential transition.'' The report stated that some incidents, such as removing keyboard keys, placing glue on desk drawers and leaving obscene voicemail messages ''clearly were intentional,'' and intentional damage would constitute a criminal act under federal law. No prosecutions are planned, though.

Clinton supporters countered that the amount of trash was typical of any presidential turnover and that there was little money to replace chair backs, desk locks, mirrors and other items broken before the transition due to ordinary use. Items that Bush administration officials replaced, including two cameras and 26 cellular phones, were left in the presidential offices, Clinton staffers told investigators.

''The work on this that Mr. Barr did and the White House did cost more than the people moving out of the office,'' said Jake Siewert, a member of Clinton's White House press office who was working during the transition. "The White House was in pretty good shape, but obviously you have some damage from 500 people transiting in and out of it.''

Democratic lawmakers characterized the investigation as a witch hunt and a waste of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. "The GAO's report confirms what many of us have long known to be true: Claims made by Bush administration officials of widespread vandalism at the White House during the transition just weren't true,'' said Rep. Anthony D. Weiner (D-N.Y.). "The Bush administration owes them a long-overdue apology.''

In a letter to the GAO comptroller, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales criticized the report for minimizing the number of pranks--which the GAO put at two dozen--and for failing to detail them. Notes in desks or affixed to filing cabinets allegedly left by Clinton staffers reading ''GET OUT,'' ''Hail to the thief'' and ''W happens'' were shown to investigators but were not included in the report, the letter said. Other pranks included stickers in the West Wing depicting President Bush as a chimpanzee and a photograph in an Executive Office Building safe showing a blank election ballot with the word ''chad'' spelled out in punch holes.

The GAO interviewed 78 Bush and 72 Clinton aides. Bernard Ungar, who was in charge of the investigation, said one GAO employee worked on it full-time for about nine months.

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