WASHINGTON — President Bush expressed disappointment, sadness and shock Saturday over the arrest of his former domestic policy advisor, Claude A. Allen, who resigned in February, citing a need to spend more time with family.
Allen, 45, was arrested last week in suburban Maryland on charges he stole merchandise from Target and other stores, in what police said was a scheme that lasted months and netted him more than $5,000 in goods that ranged from a Bose home theater system to $2.50 trinkets.
"If the allegations are true, something went wrong in Claude Allen's life, and that is really sad," Bush said Saturday at the White House. "When I heard the story last night, I was shocked. And my first reaction was one of disappointment, deep disappointment.... Shortly thereafter, I felt really sad for the Allen family."
The arrest marks an Icarus-like fall for Allen, a conservative star and born-again Christian father of four who rose from a working-class childhood in the nation's capital to become one of the administration's most senior African American members. Bush twice nominated Allen to a federal appeals court seat.
The charges also are another blow for the president and the GOP: Allen is the third member of the administration to face criminal charges. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, has been indicted on charges related to the leaked identity of a CIA officer. David H. Safavian, who headed procurement for the U.S. General Services Administration, is fighting charges that he obstructed a federal investigation and made false statements in connection with the corruption probe linked to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Congressional Republicans also face inquiries, including Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who resigned as majority leader after being indicted last year on money laundering charges. He awaits trial on charges that he illegally channeled corporate donations to Republican candidates in Texas.
Allen was arrested Thursday in an affluent Maryland suburb north of Washington and released on his own recognizance. His police mug shot shows him tie-less, his collar askew and his eyes averted from the camera.
He faces two charges in connection with the alleged thefts and ongoing scheme, each of which carries maximum penalties of a $25,000 fine and 15 years in prison. His lawyer did not return calls for comment.
According to the Montgomery County police, a Target store manager spotted Allen strolling the aisles Jan. 2 with an empty Target bag in his shopping cart. The manager watched as Allen placed items in the bag, then went to guest services and presented a receipt to receive a refund for those items.
After receiving the refund, Allen left the store without paying for other merchandise and was stopped by an employee, police said. A subsequent investigation showed that Allen had fraudulently returned more than $5,000 worth of goods at Target and department stores over the last year.
Police said Allen "would buy items, take them out to the car, and return to the store with the receipt. He would select the same items he had just purchased, and then return them for a refund." Some of those crimes were caught on video surveillance tapes, police said.
Police telephoned the White House on Jan. 2 to confirm Allen's identity. That same day, Allen told White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. that there had been a misunderstanding. On Jan. 3, Allen met with White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers and told her that several recent address changes had led to confusion about his credit cards. A few days later, Allen told Card and Miers he was thinking of resigning to spend more time with his family, but he stayed on to help the president prepare for the Jan. 31 State of the Union speech.
In his comments Saturday, Bush said the charges, if true, would mean that White House officials "were not fully informed" about Allen's predicament.
As the president's domestic policy advisor, Allen advised Bush on topics that included healthcare, education, space exploration and Native American issues. Shortly after his January 2005 appointment, Allen said that, as a child, he thought of the White House as a field trip destination, never a place he might work.
He grew up in a two-bedroom apartment, the son of a plumbing supply truck driver and Catholic school worker. At the time of his arrest, he lived in a house worth about $1 million. The trajectory of Allen's life echoed the way he once defined the American dream -- going "from the guttermost to the uttermost" -- a rise shaped, in part, by his conservative beliefs.
After graduation from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Allen got his political start as one of the first African American aides to then-Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). After Duke Law School, a clerkship at the U.S. Court of Appeals led to a close friendship with then-Judge Clarence Thomas, now a Supreme Court justice.
Allen went on to serve as the Health and Human Services secretary for Virginia, where he cemented his conservative bona fides by denying a low-income rape victim Medicaid funds for an abortion. In 2001, Bush appointed Allen to the No. 2 post at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he promoted abstinence-only AIDS-prevention programs.
In 2003, Bush tapped him for a seat on the federal appeals court, but Democrats blocked the nomination, in part because of comments Allen made while working for Helms. Discussing Helms' political opponent, Allen had said the man was vulnerable because he had ties to "queers." At his confirmation hearings, Allen told senators that he had meant people who were "odd, out of the ordinary."
Bush resubmitted the nomination in 2004, but it languished through the year, and Allen withdrew from consideration.