Monday, December 5, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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White House Rips Gingrich Drug Charge -- One-Fourth Of Staff Used Them, Gop Leader Says


WASHINGTON - The Clinton administration today denounced as untrue and "reckless" an assertion by House Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich that up to one-fourth of the White House staff used illegal drugs in recent years.

Gingrich made the claim yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press," saying: "It's very clear that they had huge problems getting people through security clearance."

The conservative Republican also defended his proposal for placing welfare children in orphanages and suggested that first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton see the 1938 movie "Boys Town" before discounting the idea.

White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers today denied Gingrich's allegations on drug use, saying that the White House had a stringent policy against drug use and adheres to random drug-testing rules.

Myers said that if any employees tested positive for drugs they wouldn't be working at the White House any longer.

"It's irresponsible," she said. "He offered no evidence to support his reckless charges. He offered no facts, he offered no names."

She said that everyone who works at the White House was asked in writing if they had used illegal drugs within the previous five years as part of the FBI clearance process.

"They ask you in interviews whether you've ever used them," she added.

Gingrich cited a senior law-enforcement official who told him that "in his judgment, up to a quarter of the White House staff, when they first came in, had used drugs in the last four or five years."

Asked about his own use of marijuana as a youth, Gingrich treated it lightheartedly, saying it was "a sign we were alive and in graduate school in that era." Gingrich, 51, is three years older than the president, who has also acknowledged he tried marijuana in college.

Gingrich also asked rhetorically how Clinton could have a surgeon general, Joycelyn Elders, who said legalization of drugs should be considered. "I assume he shares her values. I assume he thinks it's OK," Gingrich said. When Elders made her suggestion, Clinton publicly disagreed with her.

On his plan to revive orphanages as an alternative to welfare payments, Gingrich accused opponents of saying in effect "to a 13-year-old drug addict who is pregnant, you know, put your baby in a Dumpster, that's OK, but we're not going to give you a boarding school."

Gingrich, in a proposal controversial even among Republicans seeking radical welfare reform, has advocated taking savings generated by denying aid to mothers on welfare to provide services to children, including promoting adoptions and establishing orphanages or group homes.

Hillary Clinton last week said the idea of taking children away from their mothers was "unbelievable and absurd."

Gingrich said yesterday he would "ask her to go to Blockbuster and rent the Mickey Rooney movie about "Boys Town."' That film, co-starring Spencer Tracy, is the story of Father Edward Flanagan and the first Boys Town for troubled youth he founded in Omaha, Neb., in 1917.

"I don't understand liberals who live in enclaves and safety who say, `Oh, this would be a terrible thing. Look at the Norman Rockwell family that would break up."' Gingrich said.

The Child Welfare League of America, in an analysis conducted for Time magazine, concluded that if one-quarter of the estimated 1 million children affected by welfare cutoffs end up in orphanages, the additional cost to the public would be $8 billion.

The organization said welfare costs of one child living with his or her mother is $2,644 a year, while it would cost $4,800 to house the same child with a foster family and $36,000 annually for "residential group care."

Gingrich said his allegations on recent drug use among White House staff backed up his claims that "you've got scattered throughout this administration counterculture people."

The Republican leader recently took heat for referring to Clinton and the first lady as "counterculture McGovernicks."

Gingrich said there was no comparison between Clinton's support of George McGovern, the Democrat's liberal candidate for president in 1972, and Gingrich's own support for liberal Nelson Rockefeller who ran against Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination in 1968.

Gingrich also protested "that's not true" when a reporter suggested that he, like Clinton, avoided military service during the Vietnam War.

Gingrich said he had a student deferment before the war and two children. He said he joined the ROTC but dropped out "because it didn't pay."

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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