White House Scales Back Prank Reports
By John F. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 27, 2001 ; Page A06
President Bush said yesterday he is not concerned about "a prank or two" played by Clinton staff members as they left the White House, and his press secretary scaled back his description of a review the White House is conducting of purported vandalism.
Former president Bill Clinton's top aide protested yesterday that there is no evidence of widespread damage, despite news reports quoting anonymous Republicans suggesting a systematic trashing of offices and an Air Force jet. And Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer said there will be no formal effort to audit the damage.
On Thursday, Fleischer announced that the White House would be "cataloguing" the damage. Yesterday, it turned out that amounted to a single aide "who is really just keeping track in his head about things that may have taken place" -- not writing incidents down or assessing damage.
He refused to document for reporters any specific property damage.
Clinton aides believe that is because there is little specific evidence that Bush aides could point to. Former Clinton confidants have acknowledged a string of pranks -- including removing the "W" key from computers and posting official-looking gag signs outside offices. Former West Wing officials said they agreed that these pranks, which they attributed primarily to aides to former vice president Al Gore, were in questionable taste. But they said these lapses were a far cry from property destruction and an exception to the efforts the Clinton team generally made for a smooth transition.
Karen Tramontano, Clinton's chief of staff, said she called White House Chief of Staff Andrew W. Card Jr., to seek an explanation of what the Bush team had found. "I honestly believe that nothing like that happened, but if they have evidence someone should let us know," she said. Later, she reported that a Card deputy, Joseph Hagin, called back to cite a "copier cord cut, a phone line cut" but said these were "isolated incidents." Fleischer said Hagin had expressly cited more than one instance of cut cords, but agreed that "the story has become bigger than life."
Bush, himself, said, "There might have been a prank or two; maybe somebody put a cartoon on the wall, but that's okay. It's time now to move forward."