Clintons: Gifts Were OK'd by Curator

Tuesday, February 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton say they'll be happy to return the fancy sofas, rattan chairs and other furnishings they took from the White House if it turns out that the gifts were meant to dress up the executive mansion for future presidents too.

``All of these items were considered gifts to us,'' Mrs. Clinton, now a Democratic senator from New York, said Monday in Rochester, N.Y. ``That's what the permanent record of the White House showed. ... But if there is a different intent, we will certainly honor the intention of the donor.''

The White House curator's office is working with the Clintons to clarify any confusion about whether the items the Clintons took were personal gifts or items that were supposed to stay, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.

In a statement, the Clintons said each of the gifts they accepted were identified by the White House gift office as a present to them. They said none of the gifts they took, including some $23,000 worth of household furnishings in question, was on a curator's list of official White House property.

``Gifts did not leave the White House without the approval of the White House usher's and curator's offices,'' the Clintons said in the statement that addressed the latest sour note to follow the former president and his wife out of the executive mansion. ``Of course, if the White House now determines that a cataloging error occurred ... any item in question will be returned.''

Asked about the gifts, President Bush expressed confidence the Clintons would make a proper decision. ``It's important for all of the facts to be laid out on the table,'' he said.

The Washington Post quoted two donors in Monday's editions as saying the furnishings they gave were intended for the White House, not the Clintons. They were Steve Mittman of New York, whose donation was valued at $19,900; and Joy Ficks of Cincinnati, who gave $3,650 worth.

Mittman told NBC he doesn't care where the furniture ends up. ``I consider it an honor to have been chosen ... and we would do so again.,'' he said.

In is editions Tuesday, the Post quoted a former furniture industry executive, Brad Noe, as saying a sofa worth nearly $3,000 that he was supposed to have given to the Clintons wasn't meant for them, but for the White House collection. ``I would never give a gift to the Clintons,'' Noe said.

``Everyone involved, including the White House curator, believed that each item was a gift to the Clintons,'' said Jim Kennedy, speaking for the Clintons. ``Now you have a couple of people saying that they didn't intend for them to go to the Clintons and, of course, we want their wishes to be honored.''

The day before they left the White House, the Clintons released a list of $190,000 in gifts they chose to take with them, many of which they could use for their two new homes in Washington and in Chappaqua, N.Y.

But after criticism erupted, they offered to pay $86,000 for about half the gifts.

Now it's the other half at issue. Some items in this group were on a National Park Service list of donations for the 1993 White House redecoration project.

The gift flap is one of several problems dogging Clinton's first weeks as an ex-president and his wife's first weeks as a senator.

In Boca Raton, Fla., on Monday to make a $100,000 appearance at a Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. conference, Clinton's limousine drove past about a dozen demonstrators who shouted ``hide the women and silverware'' and carried signs that read ``Everything Still for Sale'' and ``Clinton Bonds Lack Principle.''

The investment firm, based in New York, acknowledged that it had received several phone calls from customers who were irate that the former president was speaking at the company's annual junk-bond conference.

Even some of Clinton's fellow Democrats were upset at his last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, a commodities trader who fled to Switzerland in the 1980s and remained there after he was charged with 51 counts of tax evasion and fraud.

Clinton has defended the decision on Rich, which is irreversible, yet the subject of a congressional investigation. ``On the merits, I don't think it was a wrong decision,'' he said.

Critics also questioned Clinton's decision to rent an office in New York City that would have cost taxpayers more than $600,000 a year. Last week, he said his foundation would pay half the cost.