When I turned aside

June 5, 2001 7:58 p.m.

When I turned aside the academic life for this writing racket I think
I had visions of Edmund
and Walter
. Analyzing these pictures of alleged White House vandalism makes me
a feel a bit more like a low-rent Johnnie
. Anyway, I guess you’ve got to sleep in the bed you’ve made. So
let’s have at it.

The White House has now released at least two pictures to substantiate their
accusations of White House vandalism. And apparently they’ve agreed to give
their “list”
to the GAO for another investigation of the whole thing.

I can’t say that I know precisely what they’re going to find. But what I do think is pretty clear is that this
vandalism story is quickly becoming a real tar baby
for Ari Fleischer. And I have to think he must be starting to realize that.

Could the White House really have the goods to put this story to rest? Maybe.
But if they did, the thing to do would be to silence the critics with a
knock-out blow. And even if you believe all they’ve alleged in their “list” it’s
still a far cry from the vandalism that was originally alleged.

More important, getting into a back and forth with their critics about piddly
stuff like whether ten slashed phone cords were slashed by resentful
twenty-somethings in the Old Executive Office Building or accidentally by movers
just makes them look stupid and petty.

I mean, listen: can you really say that “in an attempt to
deprive the incoming White House of office supplies the previous administration
threw out vast quantities of paper, pens and pencils and three-ring binders,
which we recovered
” and not consign yourself to Dante’s
seldom-discussed tenth ring of hell — that reserved for pitiful morons?

As nearly as I can tell, this photo released by the White House shows a
disheveled office with some boxes of folders and binders knocked over on the
ground. Certainly not tip top shape. And I hope every office in the place didn’t
look like that. But is this it? This is the smoking gun?

My understanding is that both these photos are from the White House Counsel’s
Office in the Old Executive Office Building. So what’s surprising is that we
haven’t seen the following conclusion already drawn: we know from sworn
congressional testimony that the folks in the Counsel’s Office were working
early into the wee hours of the morning of President Clinton’s last day in
office working over those pardon applications.

Now, the substance of what they were working isn’t on the top of my list of
things to talk about. But what seems logical to assume is that the staffers in
the Counsel’s Office worked into the morning and had little time to put things
away and throw things out before they left around noon on inauguration day. Not
that they ‘trashed’ the place about of mindless permissive liberal rage.

It would have been the better part of wisdom for Fleischer to say that he
never repeated the wildest allegations of vandalism (which would have been very
misleading but not technically untrue), that rumor and emotion got the better of
some people in those early days, and that it’s just over and be done with it.
His new round of threats have just dug him deeper.

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