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Profile: Kerry Lauerman
Kerry Lauerman was a participant or observer in the following events:
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says he cannot confirm the extent of the alleged vandalism carried out by Clinton staffers in the last days of the Clinton administration (see January 23, 2001). President Bush intends to change the tone in Washington to a positive one, Fleischer says, and as a result, the White House will not comment on the charges of rampant vandalism and theft. “Whether things were done that were perhaps less gracious than should have been, it is not going to be what President Bush focuses on, nor will it be what his staff focuses on,” he says. “Whatever may have been done, we are going to just put our heads down and look ahead.” [NewsMax, 1/26/2001; Guardian, 1/26/2001]
Hints and Innuendos - However, the White House is “cataloguing” the damage allegedly done by Clinton staffers, Fleischer says. When asked what is being catalogued, Fleischer responds: “I choose not to. 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.” Sensing more to the story, reporters hone in, asking why make a catalogue “if you’re going to give them a pass,” what the dollar estimate of damage might be, and other questions. When a reporter says, “You’ve got to blame somebody,” Fleischer cuts him off: “President Bush is not going to come to Washington for the point of blaming somebody in this town. And it’s a different way of governing, it’s a different way of leading.” When asked what he knows of the supposed apology offered to Vice President Cheney’s wife by former Vice President Gore’s wife (see January 24, 2001), Fleischer says, “I know that a phone call was made to the vice president’s office, but I really—I don’t recall who made it.” When asked where the majority of the alleged damage was, Fleischer says, “You know, I really stopped paying attention to all the different places.” Finally, when asked whether some of the damage could actually be the result of renovations and normal repairs, Fleischer says, “I don’t think that the people who were professionals, who make their business to go in and prepare a White House for new arrivals, would cut wires.” Fleischer ends the briefing, having given reporters enough hints and implications of severe, widespread vandalism to whet their appetites. [Salon, 5/23/2001]
Story Fed by Fleischer, White House Officials - The allegations of vandalism and theft will prove to be almost entirely false (see February 14, 2001 and May 18, 2001). Salon will later report that while Fleischer and other White House officials publicly remain above the fray, in private they are feeding the controversy by giving detailed off-the-record interviews to selected reporters, pundits, and talk show hosts. One White House reporter will later admit that the story was pushed by at least two “unnamed Bush aides.” Salon correspondents Kerry Lauerman and Alicia Montgomery add: “Fleischer and the off-the-record Bush staffers, meanwhile, got a lot of help from a press corps eager for early scoops from a new administration. For some reporters and pundits, the White House vandalism story was just too good to pass up.” [Salon, 5/23/2001] A Washington Post report later states: “A high-level Republican who saw some of the damage said the White House was leery about putting information out about this because chief of staff Andrew Card Jr. did not want to appear to be ratting on the Clinton administration. ‘People wanted to talk about this, and Andy said no,’ an official said.” [Washington Post, 1/26/2001]
Stories Debunked - It will not be long before the stories are proven almost entirely false (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001).
The final paragraph of Mike Allen’s Washington Post report on allegations of systematic White House vandalism carried out in the last days of the Clinton administration (see January 26, 2001) states: “Some GOP officials are portraying the damage as a sordid coda to the Clinton years. A Bush campaign official said the White House staff and Secret Service agents welcomed the Bush entourage especially warmly on Saturday. Some of the kitchen staff hugged members of the Bush family, the official said, adding, ‘You could sense an attitude like, “Thank God you’re here.”’” [Washington Post, 1/26/2001]
Skepticism of Allen's Reporting - Months later, skeptical Salon reporters Kerry Lauerman and Alicia Montgomery will observe of Allen’s report, “As if the portrait of Clinton’s staff members loading their pickups with White House valuables wasn’t enough, readers were treated to the heartwarming image of a service staff grateful that their rightful rulers had returned.”
Desired Effect? - Lauerman and Montgomery will report that Allen’s reporting, and the entire “vandal scandal,” apparently had its desired effect: a rise in positive media approaches to the incoming Bush administration paired with a final slap at the outgoing Clintons. Days after the Allen report, conservative media pundit and publisher William Kristol will tell Fox that the “vandal scandal” worked well for Bush and his conservative supporters: “It’s been really great for Bush to have people—and including many Gore voters, I think—just look up and think, ‘You know what? Maybe I didn’t want Bush to be president, but I am glad that Bill Clinton is gone.’” Lauerman and Alexander will write: “It couldn’t have gone better for members of the incoming Bush administration had they choreographed it themselves. And, in fact, they had” (see January 25, 2001). [Salon, 5/23/2001]
The General Accounting Office (GAO) concludes its own investigation of the so-called Clinton “vandal scandal” (see January 26, 2001), and finds that some minor destruction of property did take place within the White House during the final days of the Clinton administration. [New York Times, 6/12/2002]
Keyboards Damaged, Glue on Desks, Graffiti in Restroom, Stolen Plaque - The GAO finds that about $13,000 to $14,000 of damage actually took place; initial reports from Bush administration sources placed the damages at closer to $250,000. Much of that money was spent on replacing computer keyboards, some of which had the “W” key either pried off or defaced. Other damage included glue smeared on desk drawers, derogatory graffiti written on a stall in a White House men’s bathroom, disparaging messages left on telephone answering machines, and signs with satirical or disparaging messages affixed to White House office doors. A file cabinet had a sticker reading “Jail to the Thief” stuck inside one drawer, obviously referring to allegations that President Bush had stolen the 2000 presidential election. And a foot-wide presidential seal went missing from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The GAO report notes that similar pranks and property damage were reported during earlier transitions, including the 1993 transition between the first Bush administration and the incoming Clinton administration. “We were unable to conclude whether the 2001 transition was worse than previous ones,” the report says. “Any intentional damage at the White House complex, which is a national treasure, is both inappropriate and a serious matter. The theft of or willful damage to government property would constitute a criminal act.” Representative Bob Barr (R-GA), a Clinton critic who requested the GAO investigation as well as an earlier investigation conducted by the General Services Administration (see May 18, 2001), says of the GAO report, “The Clinton administration treated the White House worse than college freshmen checking out of their dorm rooms.” [New York Times, 6/12/2002; Los Angeles Times, 6/12/2002]
Most Allegations Never Confirmed - Salon correspondent Kerry Lauerman notes that the GAO report is “a far cry from what was promised by Republicans like… Barr.” He asks: “Whatever happened to the looting and trashing Barr said would be documented? The expensive paintings that were supposedly stolen from the White House? The ‘cut wires’ that White House press secretary Ari Fleischer had publicly referred to (see January 25, 2001)? The never-explained ‘porn bombs’ that anonymous GOP sources had complained about? The presidential seals that were stolen, or the historical doorknobs that had been yanked off for souvenirs?” Some of the allegations of missing items, such as the missing seal and antique doorknobs, cannot be demonstrated as the result of theft, but are merely listed as “missing.” And many of the items, such as the antique doorknobs, were not on original inventory lists, but, as Lauerman writes, “suddenly showed up on a White House list compiled in June 2001—based on the months-old ‘recollections’ of staffers—which does not exactly scream reliability” (see June 2-3, 2001). [Salon, 6/13/2002]
Bush White House Demands Further Investigations - Bush officials are reported to be “deeply disappointed” with the report, with White House counsel Alberto Gonzales demanding more details, including the full text of the graffiti and other messages that Gonzales describes as “especially offensive or vulgar.” Gonzales is disappointed that the report did not include, for example, “portions of a sign of a mock Time magazine cover” that was among the prank signs left in the White House, and that apparently contained a profanity. “It is vital to include the substance of specific graffiti, messages and signs observed” in order to fully document the acts of vandalism, Gonzales argues. “The content of a message can—and often does—indicate who wrote the message, and when” and “often provides an insight into the mindset or intention of the person who wrote it.” The GAO responds that such details are “unnecessary and inappropriate.” A Bush administration official accuses the GAO of “undertak[ing] a concerted effort to downplay the damage found in the White House complex.” Lauerman writes: “[I]t’s safe to say that a close reading of the GAO report doesn’t validate the charges of wanton, widespread destruction by the Clinton team. What it does show is the lengths to which the Bush administration went to try to make the scandal charges stick.” [New York Times, 6/12/2002; Salon, 6/13/2002]
Degrees of Cooperation - Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri says: “The real scandal here is how much time and money the Republicans have wasted in a vendetta against the Clinton administration. It’s troubling that the White House cooperated so enthusiastically with this investigation, but refused to provide the GAO with records of the energy task force headed by Vice President Cheney” (see May 16, 2001). Bush spokeswoman Anne Womack responds: “The GAO confirmed that damage was done at the White House. We have considered this matter closed for more than a year. Our focus is on moving forward.” [New York Times, 6/12/2002]
Tremendous Cost of Investigation - Lauerman concludes: “The White House made 78 staffers available for interviews with the GAO, and clearly spent an enormous amount of energy just to try to stick another scandal to the Clintons. (Gonzales’ time alone, billed by the hour, might cost more than the $9,000-plus the GAO blamed on the Clintons.) After 11 months, and an investigation that Democrats told the Washington Post cost $200,000, one somehow expected more. Now that all the facts are in, it seems pretty clear which administration should get the blame for the White House vandal scandal.” [Salon, 6/13/2002]
Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, Anne Womack, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, Robert “Bob” Barr, Clinton administration, General Services Administration, Kerry Lauerman, George W. Bush, Jennifer Palmieri, General Accounting Office
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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