WASHINGTON – President Bush on Saturday said he was shocked and saddened to learn that former domestic policy adviser Claude Allen was charged with theft for allegedly receiving phony refunds at department stores.
"When I heard the story last night, I was shocked, and my first reaction was one of disappointment, deep disappointment — if it's true — that we were not fully informed," Bush said. "Shortly thereafter, I felt really sad for the Allen family."
Allen, 45, was arrested Thursday by police in Montgomery County, Md., for allegedly claiming refunds for more than $5,000 worth of merchandise he did not buy, according to county and federal authorities. He had been under investigation since at least January for alleged thefts on 25 occasions at Target and Hecht's stores.
"If the allegations are true, Claude Allen did not tell my chief of staff and legal counsel the truth, and that's deeply disappointing" the president said at the White House following an event on Iraq. "If the allegations are true, something went wrong in Claude Allen's life, and that is really sad."
Allen, who had been the No. 2 official at the Health and Human Services Department, was named as domestic policy adviser at the White House in early 2005. He resigned abruptly on Feb. 9, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.
The night of Jan. 2, after an alleged incident at the Target in Gaithersburg, Md., presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said Allen called White House chief of staff Andy Card to tell him what had happened. The next morning, Allen spoke in person with Card and White House counsel Harriet Miers.
McClellan said Allen told Card and Miers that it was all a misunderstanding and cited confusion with his credit card because he had moved several times. "He assured them that he had done nothing wrong and the matter would be cleared up," McClellan said.
The president first learned of Allen's planned departure and the January incident in early February. But since Allen had passed the usual background checks and had no other prior issues that White House officials were aware of, "he was given the benefit of the doubt," McClellan said.
Mallon Snyder, a Gaithersburg lawyer representing Allen, said his client was not improperly trying to take the items. Snyder said asked Target to produce videotape they said they have of Allen but that store representatives refused. He said he wants to meet with Target investigators to clear things up.
"It's a misunderstanding on their part," Snyder said, adding that the investigation had nothing to do with Allen's departure from the White House.
Allen has been released on his own recognizance. Calls to Allen's home in Gaithersburg, a Washington suburb, were not returned.