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Lockhart defends Clintons as GOP criticizes gifts, pardons, pranks

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart lashed out at the new GOP White House team Sunday, saying some presidential aides have attempted to smear the former Clinton administration by spreading stories about vandalism and raising questions about pardons and gifts to the recently departed first family.

Speaking on CNN's "Late Edition," Lockhart said Republicans have been unable to document any acts of vandalism, despite public references by aides to President Bush about damage done to the White House by departing Clinton staff aides.

"They haven't provided any facts," Lockhart said, who criticized Bush for saying the White House would catalogue what allegedly transpired, but provided no details. "I mean, that's just bad form," Lockhart added.

Republicans continued their attacks against the Clinton administration on other fronts. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Congress should investigate Clinton's last-minute pardon of former fugitive financier Marc David Rich. A House panel has already launched a probe into the pardon.

Prior to leaving office, Clinton pardoned Rich, a man listed on the Department of Justice's Web site as an international fugitive. The 66-year-old Belgium native, who holds citizenship in the United States, Spain and Israel, had been wanted for allegedly conspiring with the Iranian government in 1980 to fraudulently purchase 6 million barrels of oil despite a trade embargo against that country.

Lott also criticized some $200,000 worth of gifts the Clintons accepted from supporters shortly before they left the White House. Lott suggested the gifts were improper because many were given to Mrs. Clinton, now a U.S. senator from New York.

"I mean, she couldn't have taken it now, so they kind of rushed to get it," Lott said on the "Fox News Sunday" TV show. "I think maybe in the Senate, we're going to have to take a look at our own rules, the gift rules, to say 'After you're elected but before you're sworn in, the rules apply,' so that there won't be this rush to evade the rules, quite frankly."

Appearing on the same program, Vice President Dick Cheney said he had no firsthand knowledge of any White House vandalism, but he "heard reports that there were things done over in the EOB, the old Executive Office Building."

Cheney appeared to dismiss the significance of the pranks, but he also declined to say what exactly happened. "We haven't worried about it a lot," Cheney said. "I mean, whatever was, was pretty childish, and we, frankly, we really haven't spent any time on it."

Bush aides said last week that the letter "W" was missing from some computer keyboards, but they never specified any other pranks or vandalism.

Lockhart said the new administration was talking out of both sides of its mouth: preaching about a new culture of bipartisanship, while aides criticized the outgoing administration.

"If you're going to be a hard-edge partisan, that's fine," Lockhart said. "You can get things done that way, but you can't have it both ways."

Lockhart also criticized Republicans who publicly disapproved of Clinton's extended goodbye tour.

"To begrudge the president the ability to say goodbye to his friends and supporters, to me, seems a new high in pettiness," Lockhart said.



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