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Published: Saturday, 6/15/2002

Kicking Clinton - again

Talk about your basic waste of time and money - taxpayer dollars, at that. The General Accounting Office spent a year and $200,000 investigating the alleged “damage, theft, vandalism, and pranks” in the transition from the Clinton Administration to that of President Bush in January 2001. The result: “little corroborating evidence” to support Republican claims that departing Clintonites had shamefully trashed the White House.

The GAO inquiry, which resulted in a 217-page report, was never a legitimate fact-finding exercise but a sophomoric attempt by GOP partisans to further embarrass Bill Clinton, even after he was already out the door.

Mr. Clinton's personal misdeeds in office, it must be noted, are a matter of extraordinary public record. Gratuitously piling on with largely exaggerated accusations was unnecessary and a waste of government resources.

The report was commissioned - the GAO had no choice - by that paragon of congressional virtue, Rep. Bob Barr (R., Georgia), who for eight years never missed a chance to unleash partisan and personal vitriol on Mr. Clinton.

Investigators generously estimated total damage at $19,000, mostly based on second-hand reports from Bush staff members.

Vandalism? The W key had been pried from 62 computer keyboards, at an estimated cost of $4,850 to repair or replace. At $72 each for a $10 keyboard, is this efficient government procurement?

Theft? Twenty-six cell phones, 15 television remotes, and two cameras missing, plus 10 historic doorknobs. Who took them? No way to tell, a GAO official says.

Damage? Two chairs with arms broken. Again, no way to tell who did it, or when.

Pranks? Bush staffers found signs “comparing President Bush to a chimpanzee” in several printers, plus another sign reading “V.P.'s cardiac unit,” an apparent reference to Vice President Cheney's heart problems.

The GAO sent letters to 518 White House staff members who worked there during the first three weeks after Mr. Bush took office. And investigators interviewed 72 former Clinton staffers and 78 Bush staffers, each of whom was accompanied by a deputy White House counsel.

The report also included this footnote: Investigators recalled that there were similar complaints from Clinton staffers in 1993, when they took over for the administration of President Bush's father.

The administration, from Mr. Bush on down, repeatedly insisted it didn't want to prolong the controversy. Why then did the White House counsel produce a 77-page rebuttal to the GAO report, complaining paragraph by paragraph that it wasn't tough enough?

Partisan jabs are one thing, but this one was childish and expensive. The American people must be wondering whether Mr. Bush's aides have nothing better to do with their time. Don't they know there's a war on?

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