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Clinton's chief of staff calls White House over vandalism reports

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton's chief of staff called the Bush administration Friday afternoon to inquire about reports of last-minute vandalism in the West Wing and in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building by former Clinton-Gore staffers, a senior Bush official told CNN.


Clinton aide Karen Tramontano called Andrew Card, President Bush's chief of staff, said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Card's deputy, Joseph Hagin, called Tramontano back Friday, and described to her "plural incidents," Fleischer said. The Bush spokesman would not describe those incidents to reporters.

A senior Bush aide, who did not want to be identified, said that the incidents occurred mostly in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, but that some also took place in the West Wing.

Hagin also told Tramontano the story surrounding the so-called pranks had become "bigger than life," Fleischer added.

Fleischer said from the very beginning, the Bush White House tried to downplay the incidents and "move forward."

"As far as we are concerned, it is over," he said Saturday.

CNN's Kelly Wallace reports on the alleged White House pranks

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Bush told reporters Friday that "there might have been a prank or two," while a Clinton administration official Friday denied reports of widespread vandalism.

Mark Lindsay, former President Clinton's assistant for Management and Administration, told CNN he toured the West Wing and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building just before George W. Bush's noon inaugural Saturday and "did not see one instance of vandalism, not a single one."

He said he saw about 100 computers during the walk-through of the White House and has no recollection of the letter "W" missing from the keyboards, as reported by Republican sources.

Lindsay conceded some offices were in disarray, but he explained, "If people are working around the clock, their first priority is not keeping it the neatest."

On CNN's "The Point with Greta Van Susteren," Lindsay said most of the West Wing offices had been vacated earlier in the week so that painters and other workers could spruce them up for the incoming administration.

On Saturday, "the West Wing was in the process of being painted and offices scraped clean," he said. "I did not see any of these things that are alleged. I have not heard one person who has been able to come forward and speak and say it on the record that they actually observed these things."

"What I saw left behind ... I saw kind notes of wishing well to the persons who were coming in from several senior staff members to other people," Lindsay said.

Other senior Clinton aides deny there were any of the so-called pranks in the West Wing offices. One aide suggested that staffers who worked with Vice President Gore may have been responsible for some minor pranks.

President Bush sought to downplay the significance of anything done by departing Clinton staffers.

"There might have been a prank or two. Maybe somebody put a cartoon on the wall, but that's OK," he said following a White House meeting with governors on the issue of education. "It's time now to move forward. It's time to focus our attention on what's possible and how to get children educated."

Still, Fleischer said the new administration was informally documenting what it contends took place.

"The cataloguing that I mentioned, frankly, that's one person in our administrative offices who is really just keeping track in his head about things that may have taken place," Fleischer told reporters Friday.

Fleischer said there would be no formal investigation.

Republican sources told CNN that the pranks included removing the letter "w" from computer keyboards, forwarding some calls from various offices to the chief of staff's office and leaving signs on doors poking fun at Bush's occasional verbal pratfalls, such as one sign saying "Office of the Strategerie."

One Republican with close ties to the Bush White House, who has been at the White House "a couple of times," told CNN that there was "trash everywhere," and that some phone lines were cut.

"The condition was appalling," said this Republican official who did not want to be identified.

The official said that Card asked his staff to focus on the business of governing, and not on these alleged pranks.

When Fleischer was asked Thursday whether workers who were repainting and re-carpeting the White House may have accidentally been responsible for any cut lines, the Bush spokesman said, "I don't think that the people who are professionals, who make it their business to go in and prepare the White House for new arrivals, would cut wires."

Fleischer also told reporters Bush was settling into the White House "very nicely."

"He walks his dogs in the evening," Fleischer said. "He's been running almost every day, and he's establishing a routine. He's up usually at about 5:45, gets into the Oval Office typically between 7 o'clock in the morning and 7:15 in the morning. So his routine is established, and I think he's enjoying White House life."


Saturday, January 27, 2001



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