Lawyer, public administrator
Claude Allen served as domestic policy assistant to President George W. Bush in 2005 and early 2006. He resigned from the position after being detained for an incident involving retail fraud. Before becoming a presidential adviser, Allen was a Bush nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals and a deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Health. Known for his staunch conservative views on such issues as homosexual marriage and abortion, Allen's nomination was seen by some critics as part of the Bush administration's attempts to further a conservative social agenda. Allen's arrest for retail fraud came as a surprise to his family and his colleagues in the federal government, and abruptly ended Allen's political career even though he was previously considered one of the Republican Party's most promising young leaders.
Claude Alexander Allen was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but spent most of his young life in a poor neighborhood in northwest Washington, DC. Allen's father worked as a plumber, and his mother worked part-time in the Roman Catholic school system. "Probably the vast majority of the kids who grew up in our neighborhood were either strung out on drugs or in jail or dead," Allen later said in an interview quoted by Ian Urbina in the New York Times.
Allen and his identical twin brother, Floyd, were educated in Catholic schools and attended Archbishop Carroll High School. Allen cited his Catholic education as a key to his later success and credited his paternal grandfather, a former sharecropper, with instilling a deep religious conviction that stayed with him throughout his life.
Allen entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1978 and joined the Chi Psi fraternity. Fellow fraternity member Donald Beeson described him to Urbina as studious and courteous: "He seemed to get along well with everyone—always thoughtful and respectful of different opinions." It was during his time in Chapel Hill when Allen left the Catholic faith and became a born-again Christian. He graduated in 1982 with a double major in linguistics and political science, and soon after began working for local politicians.
Though Allen's family leaned toward the Democratic Party, Allen realized, while working as a press secretary for Republican congressional candidate William Cobey in North Carolina, that he shared the views of the Republican Party. He told conservative commentator Armstrong Williams, "I realized … that I agree more with the Republican Party platform, that it talked about independence, that it talked about individual responsibility, individual rights, it talked about the ability to guarantee opportunities, not outcomes." He wrote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 2001 that "just when today's welfare state was being created, my mother and father were instilling in my brother and me the principles of self-government and self-worth, not what Uncle Sam could do for us."
Allen joined the offices of Republican Senator Jesse Helms in 1982 working as deputy director and press secretary for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Helms, and also serving as Helms's press secretary during his 1984 bid for re-election. During a tough campaign Allen made controversial comments to a reporter from the Greensboro News and Record, in which he referred to Helms's opponent, former Governor Jim Hunt, as having connections with "queers." Allen later reported that his remarks were meant to refer to persons who were "odd and unusual" rather than homosexual.
Became a Leading Black Conservative
Allen left Helms's offices in 1987 and entered Duke University Law School, where he completed a juris doctor degree and a master's degree in international and comparative law, graduating in 1990. He then became a legal clerk for Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia circuit, and there he met and became a protégé of conservative African-American judge Clarence Thomas. Allen and Thomas became close friends and often dined together while both were working in the DC circuit courts. "It is a small circle of conservatives, especially when you are black," said fellow African-American conservative political commentator Williams to the New York Times in 2006.
In 1991 Allen accepted a position as an attorney with Baker Botts, a Washington, DC, law firm with strong ties to the Republican Party. Allen specialized in contracts, litigation, and legislative law. His time with Baker Botts was also productive for Allen politically, as he had frequent contact with conservative leaders from around the region and was eventually selected by Virginia Attorney General Jim Gilmore to serve as his executive counsel. Beginning in 1995 Allen was part of Gilmore's Civil Litigation Division and was in charge of advising Gilmore on issues including health, education, and welfare. Allen was promoted in 1997 to deputy attorney general of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Allen worked on Gilmore's successful gubernatorial campaign in 1997 and was then named secretary of health and human services in Gilmore's administration. During his time in the state government, Allen worked on Virginia's 1999 revision of the Patient's Bill of Rights and contributed to the governor's overhaul of the state's welfare system in the area of determining mental health services.
Allen was nominated for and accepted a position as deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2001. As deputy secretary, much of Allen's job was to meet with press officials and give statements to the media regarding policy developments within the department. He was highly regarded by coworkers during this period, and in 2003 President Bush nominated Allen for a seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
At a Glance …
Born Claude Alexander Allen on October 11, 1960, in Philadelphia, PA; married Jannese Mitchell; children: Claude Alexander III, Lila-Cjoan, Christian Isaiah. Politics: Republican. Religion: Christian. Education: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, BA, political science and linguistics, 1982; Duke University Law School, MA, JD, international and comparative law, 1990.
Career: U.S. Senate, assistant to Senator Jesse Helms, NC, 1982-87; U.S. Court of Appeals, law clerk, 1990-91; Baker Botts, LLP, attorney, 1991-95; Office of the Attorney General, Commonwealth of Virginia, counsel to the attorney general, 1995-97, deputy attorney general, 1997-98; Office of the Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia, secretary of health and human services, 1998-2001; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, deputy secretary, 2001-05; The White House, assistant to the President for domestic policy, 2005-06.
Allen's nomination was opposed by a number of liberal organizations, including the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which noted that Allen continued to support Helms even when he attempted to defeat the proposal creating a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Many considered these and other policy decisions as indications that Allen did not support the African-American community. There were questions raised by members of the American Bar Association regarding Allen's qualifications, and his nomination was opposed by both of Maryland's Democratic senators. The central issue regarding Allen's nomination was that the breakdown in judge seats did not favor an additional judge from Virginia but rather one from Maryland to better represent the population of the region.
In 2005 President George W. Bush appointed Allen as a domestic policy adviser, and he worked closely with Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove. Allen's appointment made him the target of significant political criticism. In the alternative publication LA Weekly, the radical journalist Doug Ireland called Allen "a notorious homophobe, a ferocious enemy of abortion and an opponent of safe-sex education who for years has been one of the AIDS community's principal enemies." Allen was also criticized for his opposition to sex education programs that included information on the use of condoms. Allen's commitment to an abstinence policy led him to spearhead a campaign to force the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to remove information about condoms from the organization's Web pages.
Arrested for Theft
Allen resigned from the White House staff on February 9, 2006. Allen said in a press release that he was resigning to spend more time with his family, and the Bush administration thanked him for "his many years of principled and dedicated service to our country."
Shortly after Allen's resignation, the online magazine Slate reported that Allen had been detained by authorities in January of 2006 because he was suspected of stealing merchandise from a Target retail store in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Over the subsequent month, information surfaced revealing that Allen was believed to be involved in multiple instances of theft, totaling more than $5,000 dollars in stolen property.
In Allen's initial detainment, employees of the Target store witnessed him placing items in his shopping cart and then approaching the guest services center where he received a refund for the items using a receipt he obtained when he purchased the same items on a previous visit. Police decided not to arrest Allen but charged him with theft under $500. However, a further investigation of Allen's credit card statements revealed that he was involved in similar incidents conducted at twenty-five stores in Maryland and Virginia. The crime, known as "retail fraud," was classified as a "felony theft scheme" and carried a potential sentence of up to eighteen years in prison.
After his initial detainment Allen met with White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and Harriet E. Miers, White House counsel, and told both that the incident was a misunderstanding with his credit card. In March Allen was arrested on the more serious charges, and the details of the alleged crimes were released to the media. At the time felony charges were brought against Allen, the president expressed disappointment, saying, "If the allegations are true, Claude Allen did not tell my Chief of Staff and legal counsel the truth, and that's deeply disappointing. If the allegations are true, something went wrong in Claude Allen's life, and that is really sad."
As members of the press interviewed Allen's friends and family about the incident, most expressed shock that Allen, who was earning an annual salary in excess of $160,000, would resort to theft. There was some initial speculation that Allen's identical twin brother, Floyd, was somehow involved in the incident. Floyd Allen had serious financial difficulties and had declared bankruptcy in 2001.
Among items that Allen reportedly stole were a home theater system, stereo equipment, and other items valued from $2.50 to several hundred dollars. Allen again surprised friends when he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor retail theft in August of 2006. Circuit Court Judge Eric Johnson accepted Allen's admission of guilt and sentenced him to forty hours of community service, two years of supervised probation, a $500 fine and restitution of $850 to the Target Corporation.
Allen expressed "deep remorse" in his statements to the court, declaring, "Something did go very wrong. I lost perspective and failed to restrain myself." Allen said that job and family problems contributed to his errors in judgment and asked the court for a "second chance to rebuild trust," adding, "With the love of my family and the support of my church and friends, I know I will not repeat this offense."
Though his arrest and conviction effectively ended Allen's political aspirations, the judge's decision not to convict Allen on felony charges leaves him an opportunity to return to practicing law in the future. Following the incident, Allen withdrew from public life, content to remain with his family and to serve his sentence in private.
LA Weekly, January 13, 2005.
Newsweek, March 20, 2006, p. 32.
New York Times, October 29, 2003; March 12, 2006; March 14, 2006; August 5, 2006.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 29, 2001, p. F1.
Washington Post, March 11, 2006, p. A1.
"Bush Adviser Charged with Thefts," BBC News Online,http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4797400.stm, March 11, 2006 (accessed March 11, 2008).
"President Briefed by Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Task Force," The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, March 11, 2006, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/03/20060311-1.html (accessed March 10, 2008).
"President Thanks Domestic Policy Advisor Claude Allen for Service," The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, February 9, 2006, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/02/20060209-5.html (accessed May 10, 2008).
"Press Briefing by Scott McClellan," The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, March 13, 2006, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/03/20060313-5.html#b (accessed March 11, 2008).
"Former Bush Advisor's Arrest Makes Headlines," All Things Considered, National Public Radio Online, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5260390, March 13, 2006 (accessed May 10, 2008).
—Micah L. Issitt
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