Bush tallies Clinton trash bill

The new White House crew claims outgoing staffers wrecked presidential property, and Greenspan backs -- sort of -- Bush's tax cut.

Published January 26, 2001 11:49AM (EST)

Alleged 11th hour pettiness by members of the exiting Clinton administration is giving President Bush a golden opportunity to look morally superior to Bill Clinton and Al Gore. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer has confirmed that the Bushies are "cataloging" the damage done by outgoing Clinton and Gore staffers.

Though Fleischer insisted that his boss has no intention of pushing for an official investigation of alleged Democratic pranks, he refused to explain the point of completing this catalog, nor would he give specific details of any incidents. The stories that have surfaced, however, describe multiple keyboards with missing "W" keys, obscene messages carved into desks and a sign directing the verbally challenged president to the "Office of Communications and Strategerie."

According to several accounts, most of the damage occurred in the Old Executive Office Building, the Gore team's old stomping grounds. Spokespeople for Gore and Clinton, however, say that there's little substance to these charges. Yet some critics of the previous administration are already spinning the pranks story into a parable about good-guy Bush being left to clean up the mess left by crocked predecessors.

The gospel of Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, as deciphered from his congressional testimony on Thursday, vindicated Bush's voiced concern about the slowing economy and his insistence that tax cuts will do no harm. Greenspan, reversing his long-held belief that debt reduction should be the top congressional priority, testified that the size of the current federal surplus means that Congress would be wise to cut taxes, and could do so without guilt.

But in typical Greenspan fashion, the Fed chief left room for confusion. He would not specifically endorse the president's tax cut package, and he remarked that tax cuts have not always proved reliable as a fix for a sluggish economy.

Although Bush treated Greenspan's testimony as a strong endorsement of his $1.6 trillion tax cut, some congressional Democrats maintain that their concern about the size of Bush's planned cut was not negated by Greenspan's remarks. Consequently, while Bush's chances of pushing through a tax cut are now significantly greater, the scope of any cut remains in doubt.
-- Alicia Montgomery [5:45 a.m. PST, Jan. 26, 2001]

"Porn bombs" or "spic and span"?

Some recent press reports suggest Bill Clinton and his crew left behind a different sort of legacy at the White House when they departed Saturday. Weekend reports of Clinton aides gamely popping the "W" off computer keyboards quickly turned to accusations of vandalism, with Matt Drudge reporting that the damage bordered on the criminal -- with phone lines slashed, obscenities scrawled on walls, something called "porn bombs" and vulgar messages left on the voice-mail system, among other transgressions. Drudge also reported that the incoming Bush administration is conducting a full investigation of these actions.

But the buzz died somewhat after White House press secretary Ari Fleischer denied in his Thursday afternoon briefing that any investigation was going on, though he did say Bush staffers were busy cataloging any damage they found in the White House. When he was pressed for details, Fleischer was determined not to be pinned down, asserting that Bush didn't want to play a blame game. "The president understands that transitions can be times of difficulty and strong emotion, and he's going to approach it in that vein," he said.

Jake Siewert, Clinton's former press secretary , claims that there's not much for Bush to forgive, at least not in the West Wing. "The place was really spic and span," said Siewert, who says he was among the last Clintonite to exit the building Saturday.

Siewert doesn't think Bush is owed an apology because a little disorder should be expected during a presidential transition. "I was there for the transition back in 1992, and it was a mess, too," he said. Unlike the Bushies, however, the Clinton folks apparently didn't take it personally. "Imagine if you were at a private corporation with about 400 people working there," he said. "Then one day, they all left, and another 400 people came in and wanted to run things. It would be chaos." -- Alicia Montgomery [2:35 p.m. PST, January 26, 2001]

White: Tough to swallow

A week after testifying against Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft in a Senate hearing, Judge Ronnie White remains upset over what he believes was Ashcroft's scuttling of his own nomination, a promotion that would have lifted him from the Missouri Supreme Court to a federal judgeship.

White's convinced it was his pro-choice stance as a former Missouri legislator, not his supposedly soft-on-crime rulings from the bench, as Ashcroft claimed, that doomed his nomination. "The real issue was the right to choose. That's the only thing he was interested in." And yet, as he did during the hearing, White declined to comment on whether Ashcroft's questionable tactics should disqualify him from becoming the new attorney general. But White believes that as a Missouri lawyer Ashcroft violated the state's code of conduct by openly criticizing, and knowingly misrepresenting, White's record by labeling him "pro-criminal."

Rule 8.2 of the state's Rules of Professional Conduct states: "A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge." Said White: "I thought it was inappropriate for a Missouri lawyer to criticize a judge in that manner."

White and Ashcroft have a long history. In the early '90s, White served in the Missouri General Assembly at the same time that Ashcroft was the state's ardently pro-life governor. The two often clashed over abortion legislation, particularly in 1992, when White engineered a vote to defeat anti-abortion legislation. "I was chairman of a committee and through legislative maneuvering I outmaneuvered them and killed the bill. It was perfectly legal to do that," the judge recalled.

Ashcroft barely mentioned the words "life," "choice" or "abortion" during his crusade against White, instead opting to paint him as a dangerously lenient and out-of-step judge. "That's because the choice stuff is a little more complex than crime," explained White. "If you say 'crime,' then who looks behind it? But if you say 'anti-choice,' then that requires a little bit more discussion. So he took the easier of the two."

The centerpiece of Ashcroft's campaign against White involved cop killer James Johnson, who was convicted of killing three sheriffs and the wife of another. In April 1998, White was the only member of the Missouri Supreme Court to vote against the death sentence in the case, arguing that Johnson had inadequate counsel. During an August 1999 press conference, Ashcroft held up the Johnson case, and White's opposition to the death penalty as the key reason he was opposing White.

White, who has ruled in favor of the death penalty 70 percent of the time, said he was stunned that opponents used the Johnson case against him. "That was manufactured because on the day the decision was handed down no one said a word. I don't even remember it being reported on television. So how, after 16 months, did it become an issue?"

Then came Ashcroft's now-infamous October speech on the floor on the Senate in which he railed against White, labeling him a "pro-criminal" judge who had shown "a tremendous bent toward criminal activity."

"I watched it on C-Span and sat there in shock listening to him," White recalled. "But there was not notice or opportunity to respond to it. And I got a call about an hour before the vote was taken from a person in the White House who said the Republicans in the Senate are not talking to our people -- do you know what's going on? I said, 'No, I don't know.' I said, 'I'm here in Missouri. Find out and let me know.' That was the first inkling I got that it wasn't going to happen."

Afterward, White said, "I just got on with my life." But now, with Ashcroft likely to become attorney general, and after having had to relive his disappointment, White has become angry. "Here I am, the first African-American on the Missouri Supreme Court, 47 years old, never been arrested or convicted of anything, and yet I'm being called a criminal publicly."

Would Ashcroft ever have used that language with a white nominee for a judgeship? "I don't know," says the judge. "But he used them with me and that's what caused the problems. He could have always put a hold on my nomination. He could have always just voted no. But he let my nomination out, strung me out through the process and then killed it in the end." -- Eric Boehlert [2:15 p.m. PST, Jan. 26, 2001]

By Salon Staff

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