I just talked to White House spokesman Scott McClellan about the Claude Allen matter. He added several details to the story.
The chronology begins on January 2, when Allen was stopped by security at a Target store in suburban Maryland. “On January 2, when the incident occurred at the Target store, Claude called Andy [White House chief of staff Andrew Card] that night and reported the incident to him,” McClellan said. “The next morning, Andy directed him to talk to Harriet [White House counsel Harriet Miers]. He explained to both of them that it was a misunderstanding, that he was returning some merchandise and there as some confusion with his credit cards because he had moved so many times….He assured Andy and Harriet that he had done nothing wrong.”
McClellan said Card and Miers both gave Allen the benefit of the doubt in the matter, in part because Allen, who had filled a number of high-ranking positions and had been nominated to a seat on the U.S. circuit courts of appeals, had repeatedly been through the scrutiny that such jobs involve. “He had gone through background investigations several times,” McClellan said. “I don’t think they thought it was fathomable that he would jeopardize so much.”
But apparently he had. And the next hint that something was wrong came just a few days later, when Allen again spoke to Card and Miers and said he was thinking about quitting. “Within a few days of talking to Harriet, he came back and said that he had been thinking about it for some time,” McClellan said. “And because of the strain on his family, and to spend more time with his family…he had been putting in long hours, and he thought it was best that he resign.”
Allen decided to leave after the State of the Union Address, which was January 31. His last day was February 17. McClellan said Allen gave a two-week notice in early February, and that was when Card told President Bush that Allen was leaving. It was in that discussion, McClellan said, that Card told the president about the incident at Target. “Andy informed the president in early February and said that Claude had given his notice,” McClellan said. “Andy told the president about the incident during that meeting.”
The fact that Card told the president in early February suggests that Card thought there might be some connection between the Target incident and Allen’s sudden decision to leave. According to McClellan, nothing else happened before Allen’s departure on February 17. McClellan said that when he talked to reporters on February 9 about Allen — assuring them that Allen was leaving because he wanted to spend more time with his family — he, McClellan, did not know about the incident at Target. McClellan said he learned about Allen’s trouble with the law on Friday when he was called by a reporter.
One more thing. In a Corner entry below, I wrote that “We know now that Montgomery County Police contacted the White House in January with some sort of inquiry about Allen.” I based that on a report in the Washington Post which, citing Lt. Eric Burnett, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Police Department, said, “Burnett said Montgomery police contacted the White House to verify Allen’s identity after the Jan. 2 incident. He said that was the extent of their communication with the administration.”
McClellan said he wasn’t aware of any contact from the Montgomery County Police, although it’s possible that it did happen. “They may well have contacted us to verify his employment,” McClellan said, “but I’m not aware of any contact they had with us about any investigation.” In any event, he said, White House officials first learned about Allen’s problems from Allen himself.