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The Bush Presidency: Present Administration Downplays White House Vandalism

Aired January 26, 2001 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Anybody who's ever moved into a place that somebody else moved out of knows there are always issues with the former occupants. The White House is no different, except there some say the issues extend to out-and-out vandalism perpetrated by Clinton administration staffers.

CNN White House correspondent Kelly Wallace has been looking into this. She joins us now with the latest -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, the Bush team is trying to downplay this a bit -- basically, is saying that it is cataloging these so-called pranks, but that it has not launched any investigation and that really nothing will be done with the information it gathers.

Now, we do understand some things that took place. We understand that some Ws from some computer keyboards were removed. We also know that some offices, their phone lines were forwarded to the Chief of Staff's Office. We also know that some more serious things took place. A Republican with close ties to Bush White House says that some phone lines were cut, that some garbage left in the halls, maybe even some graffiti on a wall.

Again, though, the word from the Bush White House is that is busy with the work of governing, that it is not looking backwards, it is looking forward. Here's what Ari Fleischer, the president's spokesman, told us yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I choose not to describe what acts were done that we found upon arrival because I think that's part of changing the tone in Washington. I think it would be easy for us to reflect and to discuss these things and to be -- and -- to be critical. President Bush chooses to set a different tone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Now, we do understand we asked Ari Fleischer if anyone from the Clinton administration had called. He did that there was a call placed yesterday to the office of the vice president. He wouldn't reveal who made that phone call. But, Natalie, to put this in some context, we understand, talking to former Clinton administration staffers -- they said that the place was rather a mess when they got here, back in 1993, and the departing Bush administration officials left. They talked about some bumper stickers being placed in desks, some signs being placed around the building, even some hard drives being taken out of computers.

It's unclear, though, if those hard drives taken out by the Independent Counsel's office to do some investigative work of its own.

Again, it does appear some bad feelings between the two sides, some former Clinton administration officials saying look, when we got here in 1993, things weren't exactly the way they should have been, but we didn't see anything about it, we just went forward. Some bad feelings that the Bush team -- although it's saying that it's not much, that some Clinton staffers feel like the Bush team is putting the spotlight on what took place here -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Well, there are some reports, Kelly, of -- some claimed tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage here. Has anyone officially, from the Clinton administration, commented about this?

WALLACE: Well, again the Clinton administration is, you know, tough to sort of track down. Some folks right now, they say they don't really have any evidence of anything of that magnitude taking place. As for the new Bush administration, it has not said that there's any exact cost estimate -- basically said a number of the hundreds of thousands that was reported elsewhere is very much exaggerated, that some things happened, but not the large number.

So again, it looks like the Bush team is trying to sort of downplay this, but it's still out there -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Kelly, we thank you.

And as Kelly reported, the Clinton administration is saying this transition isn't really different from others. And so we thought we'd would call up Wolf Blitzer, who hasn't covered all the others, but he's been around, and now he's with us to give us a little historical context.

Wolf, what were your reactions to what you're hearing after you've been seeing some of the transitions that have taken place?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well I did cover the transition from the Bush administration to the Clinton administration in January of 1993, exactly eight years ago, and I don't remember any of these kinds of supposedly horror stories at that time. Sure, there were some Bush/Quayle bumper stickers that were lying around, but none of the kinds of pranks or even damage that's being cataloged right now by the Bush White House.

In fact, at the time, I remember there was -- there were widespread reports -- both incoming Clinton administration as well as outgoing Bush administration -- saying that the transition was very smooth. Now, remember, this time there's a lot more bitterness. It was now not a very close election in 1992. Bill Clinton solidly defeated President Bush at that time.

This time around there's a lot of anger, there's a lot of resentment. A lot of those younger Clinton-Gore officials in the White House were remaining during those final days -- of the Clinton White House -- were very, very angry, and I guess they just went overboard in allowing that anchor to explode with some of these kinds of pranks.

ALLEN: If it's true what some of these things that are being reported, sounds like it's more than just a poke in the eye or back at you.

BLITZER: And its unfortunate for someone like the White House chief of staff, at that time John Podesta the outgoing White House chief of staff, the last one that President Clinton had, because I know he did send out a memo to the entire staff saying work closely with incoming Bush transition team, make sure that you provide them all the courtesies -- they're going to be the next White House staff, and just make sure that everything is done proper. This is, after all, the White House.

So it's unfortunately that the Clinton White House, which started off on a sour note -- remember one of the fist highly publicized incidents was a young White House staffer complaining bitterly about having to respect the U.S. military. That got widespread publicity at the time. So on a note like that, to have to wind up at this point with a note like this, with the pranks and the damage that was done during those final days, final hours of the Clinton White House is not a pleasant way to have to leave -- to make this transition from Clinton to Bush.

ALLEN: Wolf, we thank you for adding your thoughts on this.

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