Saturday, March 11, 2006

Bizarro Bush World

The strange case of Claude A. Allen typifies the inherently bizarre nature of the Bush administration.

Allen, the former top domestic policy adviser to Mister Bush, was arrested last week in Virginia's Montgomery County for allegedly bilking Target and Hecht's stores out of more than $5,000 in a refund scheme.

From WaPo's Ernesto LondoƱo and Michael A. Fletcher:
This is what police said happened Jan. 2 [2006]:

Employees at the Target store at 25 Grand Corner Ave. in Gaithersburg spotted Allen putting merchandise in a shopping bag. He then walked over to the guest services desk, produced a receipt and received a refund for the items.

After getting the refund, Allen left the store without paying for additional merchandise in his shopping cart.

A store employee stopped him, and police were called to the store. Officers issued a citation charging him with theft under $500 but did not arrest him. Court records show prosecutors dropped the misdemeanor charge, which is not unusual in cases in which detectives are considering filing more serious charges.

Detectives from the county's retail crime unit soon learned that the incident was not an isolated event, [police spokesman Eric] Burnett said.

He said investigators were able to document 25 fraudulent refunds for items including a Bose home theater system, stereo equipment, clothes, a photo printer and items worth as little as $2.50.

Allen would purchase an item, take it to his car, return to the store, select the same item, take it to the counter and get a refund based on the receipt for the merchandise in his car, Burnett said. "He would get the money back or the credit" on his credit cards.

Allen resigned from his White House staff position on February 9, saying that he wanted to spend more time with his family. A born again Christian, Allen denied that he was leaving to protest military guidelines that required chaplains to only conduct non-denominational services. On January 22, Allen had met with Congressman Walter P. Jones (R-North Carolina) and promised the lawmaker that Bush would pressure Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to allow military chaplains to more explicitly express their faiths.

(The uproar over limiting chaplains' freedom to express their own faiths has been greatly overblown. As the Air Force guidelines from May 2005 clearly state, the admonition for chaplains to give non-sectarian prayers only applies to public prayer outside of voluntary worship settings, such as invocations given at military ceremonies. Nothing prevents a Catholic priest, for example, from mentioning Jesus Christ while celebrating mass.)


Allen began his political career working for Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina). As the Helms campaign spokesman in 1984, Allen told a reporter that Helms's opponent was politically vulnerable because of his connections to "queers."

As Virginia's state health and human resources secretary, Allen once denied Medicaid funds to an impoverished rape victim who wanted an abortion.

As a deputy secretary in the Bush administration's Department of Health and Human Services, Allen was a strong advocate of abstinence only AIDS prevention programs.

Allen became the White House domestic policy adviser at the beginning of the second Bush term. He helped shape policy on health care, space exploration, housing, and education.


On the day of Allen's resignation as domestic policy adviser, Mister Bush said, "Claude is a good and compassionate man, and he has my deep respect and gratitude. I thank him for his many years of principled and dedicated service to our country."

When news of his arrest hit the media earlier this week, Allen's attorney, Mallon Snyder, said he hopes to prove that the refund scam incidents were "a series of misunderstandings."

25 fraudulent refunds is a mighty long series of misunderstandings. Maybe Snyder meant that he hopes to prove Allen misunderstood the laws about fraudulent refunds 25 times.

On Friday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that if the fraud allegations proved true, "no one would be more disappointed, shocked and outraged" than Mister Bush.


We should all be disappointed, shocked and outraged that a man like Allen, who spent his entire political career imposing his personal religious beliefs on public policy, was selected to be Mister Bush's top domestic adviser in the first place.

In perspective, we might consider Allen's $5,000 bunco scheme to have been a venial sin.

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