The year was 2001. George W. Bush had just defeated Al Gore in the infamous hanging-gigachad presidential election from hell. The policy differences between the candidates weren’t actually that substantial, at least compared to how they often are today; what had really distinguished the campaign was its de facto referendum on the personal character of the outgoing Bill Clinton.
And then, as though to drive the point home, Clinton went and ransacked the White House. As Donald Trump pointed out yesterday after Mar-a-Lago was raided, the departing Clintons were accused of stealing furniture, vandalizing federal buildings, and leaving a general mess for the Bush team to clean up.
The extent of the damage reported in the press was stunning. The Clintonistas allegedly left behind filthy carpets, slashed computer cords, and trash on the floor. Profane messages had been recorded on answering machines, graffiti had been painted on walls, and pornography had been left on computer screens. An extensive amount of stuff had been stolen, everything from furniture to silverware. In a jab at the new president, the “W” keys had been removed from computer keyboards.
Even Air Force One wasn’t safe. The columnist Tony Snow reported that the presidential plane “looked as if it had been stripped by a skilled band of thieves — or perhaps wrecked by a trailer-park twister.”
The Clintons acknowledged they had taken $190,000 in supposed “gifts,” including china, kitchenware, and TVs. They later offered to return $28,000 worth and pay for tens of thousands more after the donors clarified that they’d been, you know, giving to the White House and not the Clinton college fund. Still, the Clintons’ most pathetic bagmen were more than happy to run interference. They insisted once again, as they had for eight years, that nothing had been done wrong.
All that came to a halt in 2002 when the nonpartisan General Accounting Office released its report on the transition. Yes, said the GAO, “damage, theft, vandalism and pranks did occur in the White House complex” to the tune of $13,000 to $14,000 in damage. A full $4,850 of that was to replace those keyboards shorn of their “W” keys. Additionally, per the GAO, “A Secret Service report documented the theft of a presidential seal that was 12 inches in diameter from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.”
More from the GAO:
Six White House employees told investigators that they had seen graffiti derogatory to Mr. Bush on the wall of a stall in a men’s room. Other White House employees saw a sticker in a filing cabinet that said, ”Jail to the thief,” implying that Mr. Bush had stolen the 2000 election.
It’s worth noting that the Bush administration, which discovered the damage upon entering office, grumbled that the GAO had severely downplayed the destruction. The report also included weaselly language like “We were unable to conclude whether the 2001 transition was worse than previous ones.” (One recalls the Great Reagan White House Heist of 1989.)
But the point is that, on this much at least, Trump is right. Whatever documents he took only to later return — the supposed rationale behind the Mar-a-Lago raid — pales in comparison to what the Clintons lifted. The Democrats in 2001 left the White House believing the presidency was rightfully theirs, that they’d been robbed — similar to how the GOP saw the plurality-elected, baby boomer Clinton as an interloper back in 1993. The difference is the Republicans never filched the fine china.