Bush claims ‘shock’ at former aide’s arrest

    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.

    © 2006 The Associated
    Press