Arrest of Ex-Bush Aide Shocks Associates

Claude A. Allen, left, as top domestic adviser walked the White House lawn with President Bush and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove on July 14, 2005.
Claude A. Allen, left, as top domestic adviser walked the White House lawn with President Bush and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove on July 14, 2005. (By Ron Edmonds -- Associated Press)
By Michael A. Fletcher and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 12, 2006

Claude A. Allen has said his mother warned him that as a black man he risked ruining his life, or at least his career, by becoming a Republican. As it turned out, nothing could have been farther from the truth.

Allen rose steadily through the Republican political ranks. From congressional campaign aide, to Senate staffer, state Cabinet secretary, federal appeals court nominee and the upper reaches of the Bush administration -- all by age 45.

But Allen's once-soaring career has taken a bizarre turn with his arrest Thursday on theft charges for allegedly ripping off two department stores in a phony refund scheme.

The arrest of Allen, who suddenly resigned last month as President Bush's top domestic policy adviser, startled those in his big-ticket Gaithersburg neighborhood and at the White House who knew him as a soft-spoken and collegial aide who was loyal to his young family and devoted to his church.

"When I heard the story last night, I was shocked, and my first reaction was one of disappointment, deep disappointment," Bush said yesterday.

Allen is accused of swindling Hecht's and Target stores out of more than $5,000 in refunds for items he did not buy. His lawyer, Mallon Snyder, denied the charges. "His returns and refunds were exactly what they should have been," Snyder said yesterday, saying that the charges stem from a series of misunderstandings.

Allen's arrest marks a baffling setback in a career that until recently seemed headed nowhere but up. "If the allegations are true, something went wrong in Claude Allen's life," Bush said. "And that is really sad."

Bush named Allen his top domestic policy adviser last year. With a West Wing office and a salary of $161,000 a year, Allen was the top-ranking African American on the White House staff. His broad portfolio involved advising Bush on policy issues including health care, space exploration, housing and education.

In a White House where real power is centered in a few hands, Allen was not so much a decision maker as he was purveyor and tailor of Bush administration policy. Still, Allen was frequently at Bush's side, accompanying him on trips around the country and briefing him and the media on the administration's domestic policy initiatives.

Despite its prominent profile, the chief domestic policy job was only a consolation prize for Allen. Bush had named him in 2003 to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, but the nomination was scuttled by Senate Democrats who saw Allen as too conservative and too inexperienced, and blocked it from coming to a vote.

Before coming to the White House, Allen served four years in the No. 2 job in the sprawling Department of Health and Human Services.

Allen got his start in politics in North Carolina, and he spent years working for Jesse Helms, the former North Carolina Republican senator alternately revered and reviled as a conservative stalwart. Allen became a protege of Helms, a fervent opponent of affirmative action who stood against a federal holiday for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

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