Former Bush Advisor's Arrest Makes Headlines

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Claude Allen, former domestic policy advisor for President Bush, was arrested last week and charged in a felony theft scheme known as "refund fraud." Michael Fletcher of the Washington Post, who has been covering the Allen story, talks with Michele Norris about the case.


When President Bush's domestic policy advisor Claude Allen resigned suddenly on February 9th, he said he wanted to spend more time with his family. This weekend, that resignation came into sharper focus.

Allen was arrested last Thursday and charged in a felony theft scheme called refund fraud. Washington Post reporter Michael Fletcher says Allen was first caught in early January.

Mr. MICHAEL FLETCHER (Washington Post): Apparently a Target store employee witnessed Mr. Allen going through the store with a shopping bag in his cart, and after picking up several items, he promptly rolled to the guest services desk where he produced a receipt and then asked for refunds for the items he had just picked up.

He got the refund, and made his way out of the store, and apparently there were still several items in his cart that were unaccounted for, unpaid for and neither did he receive a refund for them, and he went out into the parking lot and an employee confronted him and called police. So that's how it all, the ball got rolling there.

NORRIS: And you said the ball got rolling, what happened next?

Mr. FLETCHER: Well, after that, I mean it's interesting because Mr. Allen works in such a sensitive job at the White house, he immediately, the White House says at least, that Allen, that night, called White House Chief of Staff Andy Card to report this occurrence. That, hey, you know, I was given a ticket for theft, I didn't do it, there's a problem with my credit card. Allen had moved a couple of times, at least he had just moved to Maryland from Virginia, so he said there was a problem with his address.

Meanwhile, police started an investigation and turned up twenty-five instances they say where he's done this.

NORRIS: Twenty-five incidents? So were they able to track him through his credit card or through some kind of video surveillance in the store?

Mr. FLETCHER: It's a combination of the two. They have videotape of him, and they also, you know, traced his credit card numbers as I understand it.

NORRIS: And we should note something, Michael. Apparently Claude Allen has a twin brother?

Mr. FLETCHER: Yes, he does. He has an identical twin brother who even close friends can't tell them apart when they see them. And people have seen him and close friends say that Mr. Allen has indicated to them that maybe his brother holds the key to this entire puzzling affair.

NORRIS: And five thousand dollars? Is that correct, the total amount of money involved in this?

Mr. FLETCHER: Exactly. And that's one of the baffling things, one of the many baffling things about this story. I mean, it's a relatively small amount of money. I mean, one item returned apparently was for $2.50. That's not a lot of money for a guy who's making what, $161,000 dollars a year?

NORRIS: And is one of the top-paid people in the White House.

Mr. FLETCHER: Oh yeah, he's at the top tier of White House salaries. And not only that, this is a guy that, any day of the week could leave the White House and go onto K Street and double his salary instantaneously. So it's clearly not for the money here.

NORRIS: Where will we see his imprint in the Bush Administration in terms of policy?

Mr. FLETCHER: Well, you know the way the Bush White House tends to work you probably won't see that much of an imprint from Mr. Allen, because I think the power in the White House is concentrated in a few hands. It's the Roves of the world and things like that.

But Allen, what he would do essentially, is shape, sort of like, some of the recommendations for the President. And then he would also serve as a kind of a surrogate. He would brief reporters quite frequently on various White House initiatives and he would also go out around the country, he's frequently seen at Mr. Bush's side, for example, coming from a helicopter, you know, toward the Rose Garden and things like that. So he was more of a, kind of a tailor of policy than the actual originator of it. He would sort of shape it for the President.

NORRIS: From Medicare Plan B to Social Security, to faith-based initiatives, would he be involved in all of these things?

Mr. FLETCHER: Yeah, the entire broad portfolio of domestic policy would sort of flow into his office, everything from space exploration to health and education. So he was a key guy in terms of being a major funnel of information for President Bush.

NORRIS: Michael Fletcher, thanks so much.

Mr. FLETCHER: Thank you.

NORRIS: Michael Fletcher is a reporter with the Washington Post.

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