A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

The ‘Class Act’ E-mail

Q: Was Bush’s exit from office a “Class Act” compared with Clinton’s?

A: A widely forwarded e-mail contains some false and exaggerated claims, along with some truths. It also contains made-up headlines about Obama.


There is a new chain e-mail going around – also posted on blogs everywhere – comparing the behavior of the outgoing Bushes to the outgoing Clintons and incoming Obamas:


1. Outgoing President George W. Bush quietly boards his helicopter and leaves for Texas, commenting only: “Today is not about me. Today is a historical day for our nation and people.”

[EET ]Eight years ago yesterday:

1. Outgoing President Bill Clinton schedules two separate radio addresses to the nation, and organizes a public farewell speech/ rally in downtown Washington D.C. scheduled to directly conflict with incoming President Bush’s inauguration ceremony.


2. President Bush leaves office without issuing a single Presidential pardon, only granting a commutation of sentence to two former border patrol agents convicted of shooting a convicted drug smuggler. He does not grant any type of clemency to Scooter Libby or any other former political aide, ally, or business partner.

Eight years ago yesterday:

2. President Clinton issues 140 pardons and several commutations of sentence on his final day in office. Included in these are: billionaire financier, convicted tax evader, and leading Democratic campaign contributor Marc Rich; Whitwater scandal figure Susan McDougal; Congressional Post Office Scandal figure and former Democratic Congressman Dan Rostenkowski; convicted bank fraud, sexual assault and child porn perpetrator and former Democratic Congressman Melvin Reynolds; and convicted drug felon Roger Clinton, the President’s half-brother.


3. The Bush daughters leave gift baskets in the White House bedrooms for the Obama daughters, containing flowers, candy, stuffed animals, DVD’s and CD’s, and heartfelt notes of encouragement and advice for the young girls on how to prepare for their new lives in the White House.

Eight years ago Yesterday:

3. Clinton and Gore staffers rip computer wires and electrical outlets from the White House walls, stuff piles of notebook papers into the White House toilets, systematically remove the letter “W” from every computer key-pad in the entire White House, and damage several thousand dollars worth of furniture in the White House master bedroom.

Eight years

Clinton & Gore staffers taking all kind of things like towels, ashtrays, plates and anything else that was not nailed down that had the Presidental Seal on them from The White House and Airforce One to put on ebay to sell.

Headlines On This Date 4 Years Ago:

“Republicans spending $42 million on inauguration while troops Die in unarmored Humvees”

“Bush extravagance exceeds any reason during tough economic times”

“Fat cats get their $42 million inauguration party, Ordinary Americans get the shaft”

Headlines Today:

“Historic Obama Inauguration will cost only $170 million”

“Obama Spends $170 million on inauguration; America Needs A Big Party”

“Everyman Obama shows America how to celebrate”

“Citibank executives contribute $8 million to Obama Inauguration”[/EET]


Did Bill Clinton try to draw attention away from George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2001? Were Bush’s final days as president free of pardons and commutations of sentences? Did Clinton administration staff vandalize the White House before vacating eight years ago? These are some of the implications made in a series of comparisons making its way around the Internet via e-mail and online discussion boards. We’ll take a look to see what the facts really are.

Did Clinton Upstage Incoming President Bush?

Former President Clinton gave a farewell radio address and delivered two farewell speeches on the day of incoming President Bush’s inauguration. But it’s not true that Clinton held a “rally in downtown Washington D.C. scheduled to directly conflict with … Bush’s inauguration ceremony.” In fact, Clinton attended Bush’s swearing-in ceremony.

Clinton’s final presidential radio address was taped at 5:50 p.m on Jan. 19, 2001 (the day before Bush’s swearing in) and broadcast at 10:06 a.m on Jan. 20 (the day of the swearing in). The inauguration that year happened to fall on a Saturday, the day which Clinton’s radio addresses (and those of other presidents) usually aired. Also, according to a washingtonpost.com transcript of Clinton’s first farewell speech that day, Clinton’s remarks were delivered at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland just before he, Hillary and Chelsea boarded a plane for New York. But the speech at Andrews came after Bush’s swearing-in as president, not during the ceremony, for which Clinton was present.

According to a Washington Post report, the second speech, delivered once the Clintons arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport, came before the inaugural parade ended. One thousand people were estimated to have been in attendance to greet the former president. And while some commentators characterized Clinton’s speeches as grandstanding and criticized his farewell festivities at the time, his final addresses were not dramatically unlike those of Bush this year.

Bush also delivered two speeches on his final day as president, following a schedule for the remarks that was very similar to Clinton’s. Following Obama’s swearing-in ceremony, Bush, along with family members, was transported via helicopter from the U.S. Capitol to Andrews Air Force Base, where the outgoing president delivered remarks at an arranged ceremony before a joint service honor guard, military band and an estimated crowd of 4,000 supporters. (There were an estimated 2,000 or so on hand for Clinton’s address at Andrews in 2001). Then, the former first family boarded a plane headed to Midland, Texas, where, according to a Fox News “On the Scene” blog report, Bush addressed a crowd of nearly 30,000 (others estimated around 20,000) at a “welcome home event” where he reflected on his time in office and commented on his post presidency plans.

We found no instance of Bush saying, “Today is not about me. Today is a historical day for our nation and people,” as this chain e-mail claims. The national press was barred from the event at the air force base, but Donna Miles, of the American Forces Press Service, was present and the quote doesn’t appear in her report on Bush’s farewell speech there. The quote also doesn’t appear in video of Bush’s remarks in Texas. However, during the latter address, Bush did say: “Today was a great day for America, and a good man took the oath of office and we all offer our prayers for his success.” Bush’s final radio address as president aired at 10:06 a.m on Jan. 17, the Saturday before Obama was sworn in.

Pardon Me?

The e-mail claims that Clinton issued “140 pardons and several commutations of sentence on his final day in office.” That’s very close to the truth. On his last day in office, Clinton pardoned 139 individuals and commuted the sentences of 36 more. And as claimed in the message, the list of those receiving clemency included: Marc Rich, Susan McDougal, Melvin Reynolds and Clinton’s own half brother, Roger Clinton. However, former Illinois Rep. Dan Rostenkowski was not among those pardoned on Clinton’s last day as president. Rostenkowski, convicted on two counts of mail fraud in 1996, was among 59 people who received presidential pardons weeks earlier on Dec. 23, 2000.

The e-mail is also correct in saying that, on his last full day in office, Bush only commuted the sentences of two former border patrol agents, Ignacio Ramos and José Compean, though some hoped Bush would spare a few others. Ramos and Compean had been convicted of shooting a drug smuggler in 2005.

The e-mail is wrong, however, in saying that Bush didn’t “grant any type of clemency to Scooter Libby.” Bush didn’t pardon I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby on his final day as president, but he commuted his sentence on July 2, 2007. Libby, who was convicted in 2007 of perjury, lying to the FBI and obstructing a federal investigation, had been sentenced to a 30-month prison term. With clemency, the conviction remained on Libby’s record, but instead of prison time, he received two months probation and a $250,000 fine.

According to the Department Of Justice, during his eight years in office, Clinton pardoned 396 individuals and commuted the sentences of 61 others. Over the same time period, Bush pardoned 189 people and commuted the sentences of 11.

Bush Twins Leave Gift Baskets, Clinton Staffers Leave a Mess?

Jenna and Barbara Bush wrote a parting letter to Sasha and Malia Obama offering advice on what to expect as the new first daughters. It was published in the Wall Street Journal. The Bush daughters also gave the Obama daughters a tour of the White House back in November. But we found no news reports mentioning gift baskets filled with flowers, candy, movies and music left by the twins for the Obama girls, as the e-mail claims.

Also, the claims that Clinton staffers damaged and stole various items from the White House are overstated. The Washington Post’s “Reliable Source” column did report on Jan. 23, 2001, on a “practical joke” involving the removal of the letter “W” from several computer keyboards. A few months later, after claims of widespread destruction at offices in the White House and the Old Executive Office Building had been bandied about, the General Services Administration, which maintains the White House offices, released a statement saying that, “the condition of the real property was consistent with what we would expect to encounter when tenants vacate office space after an extended occupancy,” according to The New York Times. We contacted a GSA spokesperson to confirm the quote, but we haven’t received a response. The Times also reported that Bernard Ungar, a director of physical infrastructure issues at the General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office), investigated the matter and concluded: “My sense is there probably was some phones pulled, or whatever; I don’t have a way to determine that. … But there wasn’t indication of real, significant, widespread damage.”

However, once the claims resurfaced in early June 2001, the GAO investigated further at the request of former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr. Almost one year later, after interviewing dozens of Clinton and Bush White House staffers, GSA employees, members of the Secret Service and others close to the situation, the GAO issued a report that stated that “damage, theft, vandalism and pranks” had occurred during the transition between administrations that year, but there was no mention in the report of things like staffers stuffing piles of notebook paper into toilets, as claimed in the message above:

GAO: Damage, theft, vandalism, and pranks occurred in the White House complex during the 2001 presidential transition. Incidents such as the removal of keys from computer keyboards; the theft of various items; the leaving of certain voice mail messages, signs, and written messages; and the placing of glue on desk drawers clearly were intentional acts. However, it was unknown whether other observations, such as broken furniture, were the result of intentional acts, when and how they occurred, or who may have been responsible for them. Further, with regard to stolen items, such as the presidential seal, because no one witnessed the thefts and many people were in the White House complex during the transition, it was not known who was responsible for taking them. Moreover, regarding other items reported missing, such as doorknobs, cellular telephones, and television remote controls, it was unknown whether all of them were thefts, and if they were, who was responsible for taking those items and when they were taken.

As far as “computer wires and electrical outlets” being ripped from the walls, the GAO said that White House employees had reported observing several telephone wires that had been ripped from the walls, but a repair request to the GSA did not refer to the wires as being “ripped.” Instead, the request asked repair staff to “organize all loose wires and make them not so visible.” The GAO concluded that “even though the staff made these observations … we did not know when and how the wires became separated from the walls.”

And the GAO reported that “at least $9,324 was spent to repair and replace items that were observed broken or missing in specific locations and for cleaning services in offices where observations were made.” But there was no mention of “damage [of] several thousand dollars worth of furniture in the White House master bedroom,” as the e-mail alleges. According to the GAO, its report focused on “observations that were made in the West Wing of the White House and the EEOB [Eisenhower Executive Office Building] during the transition, and not the White House residence or the NEOB [New Executive Office Building].”

Also, damage to the White House master bedroom wasn’t among the incidents reported by the Washington Post’s Mike Allen, who, on June 2, 2001, received a copy of the list of damage compiled by the White House from press secretary Ari Fleischer. According to Allen’s report, the list included: “obscene graffiti in six offices, a 20-inch-wide presidential seal ripped off a wall, 10 sliced telephone lines and 100 inoperable computer keyboards.” Also reported were “pornographic or obscene greetings” on telephones in the vice president and White House counsel offices. Allen wrote that incidents described by Fleischer reportedly occurred mainly in the Executive Office Building next door to the White House.

Made-up Headlines

The chain e-mail ends with a list of several “headlines” that supposedly appeared, criticizing Bush’s 2005 inauguration and lauding Obama’s. But we find no evidence that any of these headlines actually appeared in newspapers or magazines, and conclude that they were simply fabricated by the anonymous author of this message. Searches of both the Nexis and Google news databases bring up nothing similar to these fanciful headlines, and the message lacks any trace of attribution or documentation.

The implication in these “headlines” that Obama’s 2009 inauguration was vastly more costly than Bush’s inauguration is false, as we detailed in a previous “Ask FactCheck” item. The $42 million price tag attached to Bush’s second inauguration in 2005 only includes the money that his team raised to cover the costs of certain inauguration expenses. It does not include the additional $115.5 million that the New York Times reported the District of Columbia and the federal government had to spend on additional services, such as security and clean up. That would bring the Bush inauguration total up to $157.5 million. The $170 million figure that was reported as a potential total cost of Obama’s inauguration, however, includes both the money his committee raised and the millions spent by the federal government, as well as Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. That’s roughly the same once the numbers are adjusted for inflation.

Furthermore, Citibank executives did not contribute $8 million to Obama’s inauguration, as one of these made-up headlines proclaims. According to the Presidential Inaugural Committee Web site listing of inauguration donors, the combined contributions of individuals listed as employees of Citi, Citigroup, Citi Cards and Citibank totals $141,475.

More than half of that amount came from two people: Louis Susman, a former Citigroup vice chairman, and Ray McGuire, co-head of investment banking at Citigroup, who each contributed $50,000. Susman also bundled $300,000 (the maximum bundled amount allowed) for Obama. But those donations could have come from anyone, not necessarily Citigroup employees. Besides, adding that to Susman’s contribution still brings the Citi total to less than half a million dollars.

–D’Angelo Gore


Milbank, Dana. “An Orderly — and Uncomfortable — Power Transfer.” Washington Post, 21 Jan. 2001

Associated Press. “Bush arrives in Texas after leaving Obama note,” 20 Jan. 2009

Lineback, Maggie. “Midland, TX: Home, Sweet Home.” Fox News: On the Scene (News Blog), 20 Jan. 2009

Clayton, Jr., William E., Jo Ann Zuniga and Stefanie Asin. “The Clinton Inauguration; “This is our time,’ Clinton says; Bush:”It’s been one helluva ride’; Ex-president says goodbye to D.C., hello to Houston.” Houston Chronicle, 21 Jan. 1993

Lewis, Neila. “Clinton Issues a Pardon To Ex-Rep. Rostenkowski.” New York Times, 23 Dec. 2000

CNN.com. “Clinton’s final day includes pardons, new monument and note for his successor.” 20 Jan. 2001

CNN.com. “List of presidential pardons.” 20 Jan. 2001

Goldstein, Amy. “Bush Commutes Libby’s Prison Sentence.” Washington Post, 3 July 2007

Bush, Barbara and Jenna Bush. “Playing House in the White House.” Wall Street Journal, 22 Jan. 2009

Marquis, Christopher. ” White House Vandalism Caper Was Overblown, a Report Finds.” New York Times, 19 May 2001

General Accounting Office. “Allegations of Damage During the 2001 Presidential Transition,” June 2002.

Allen, Mike. “Bush Aide Details Alleged Clinton Staff Vandalism; List Is Response to Credibility Questions.” Washington Post, 3 June 2001

Miller, Joe. “Did Barack Obama’s inauguration really cost 4 times as much as George Bush’s 2005 inauguration?” FactCheck.org, 21 Jan. 2009

Mayerowitz, Scott. “What Recession? The $170 Million Inauguration.” ABCNews.com, 19 Jan. 2009

Mooney, Brian. “Inaugural fund-raising exceeds $53m.” Boston Globe, 30 Jan. 2009

Schouten, Fredreka and Matt Kelley. “Big-dollar donors get front seats to history.” USA Today, 21 Jan. 2009