White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham’s unfounded claim on November 19 2019 called to mind past disinformation charges against Democratic Party presidents on their way out of office.
As CNN reported, Grisham accused staff members for former United States President Barack Obama of mocking and trolling incoming staffers for Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, when the latter took office in January 2017.
“We came into the [White House], I’ll tell you something. Every office was filled with Obama books and we had notes left behind that said ‘You will fail,’ ‘You aren’t going to make it.'”
Grisham’s allegation — which depended on people believing the idea that such a display would have been either kept secret or unreported for more than two years — was similar in tone to a chain email from years before painting the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency as lacking in class, contrary to that of his own predecessor, George W. Bush. It read in part:
The Bush daughters leave gift baskets in the White House bedrooms for the Obama daughters, containing flowers, candy, stuffed animals, DVDs and CDs, 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:
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.
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.
As FactCheck.org reported in 2009, the claims were overstated. According to a report on the claims from the Government Accountability Office, the agency that maintains the offices within the White House, there were some reports of theft, vandalism, and pranks 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.
Grisham’s allegation was not only met with online criticism, but rejected by former Obama administration staff members and officials.
“This is another bald faced lie,” said former National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
Grisham later backpedaled in a statement, saying that she was referring “specifically (and honestly)” about the transition experience in the lower press office. She also attempted to claim that her claim was meant in good humor.
“I don’t know why everyone is so sensitive!” she said, adding:
At the time we saw it as kind of a prank, and something that always happened. We were so busy trying to learn where the bathrooms were and how to turn on the lights, it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Liz Allen, who worked in the communications department for the Obama administration, also denied Gresham’s allegation — although she did confirm she left a small piece of correspondence in the transition from Obama to Trump.
“I left a note wishing them good luck serving the American people and offering to be a resource,” she said.