News & Politics

Is There a Thief Loose in the White House?

Reporters have been targeted in a rash of apparent thefts

Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith via the Library of Congress.

It’s a Hardy Boys mystery for the MAGA age: A thief seems to be operating in one of the most secure buildings in the world—the White House. A rash of personal items have disappeared from designated press areas, where some reporters maintain desks.

The incidents are being treated as suspected thefts, according to senior members of the White House press corps. A White House official wouldn’t comment on specifics other than to underscore that nothing has been reported missing from elsewhere in the building.

“I have no idea who’s done it,” says ABC News White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, who also serves as president of the WHCA. “Sure, there’s stuff that’s gone missing before. But the reason we brought it up [to the GSA] is that this seemed a little bit more.” The list of lost items “wasn’t trivial,” adds Karl: Microphones, camera equipment, and an envelope with cash are among at least half a dozen things that are AWOL.

Journalists were alerted to the issue in September, when the WHCA placed a bulletin in its monthly meeting minutes: “WARNING. Thefts from press work space. Equipment and cash have disappeared from desks a number of times in recent months.” The bulletin directed journalists with information to contact the WHCA facilities committee, which is steered by NPR’s Tamara Keith and Doug Mills of the New York Times. (The facilities committee, in case you’re wondering, is typically responsible for things like getting a refrigerator repair person into the White House press kitchen.)

The apparent thefts occurred in the press-office area behind the Brady briefing room and in a communal area in the basement. Custodial staff aren’t suspected to be involved, according to someone with knowledge of the situation.

So what’s going on? Reporters aren’t pointing fingers (at least not on the record). But at least two theories come to mind: this could be late-night hijinks courtesy of a Trump-administration official with access to the briefing room, or it might be the work of a disgruntled fellow reporter. It’s a delicate game of Clue that’s complicated only slightly by the fact that the potential suspect list includes some of the most powerful people on earth.

In any case, there’s good news: Karl says there hasn’t been a new complaint since around the time the bulletin went out—perhaps because reporters are now being more careful with their belongings.

But at this point, it’s hard to see how the culprit could be caught, barring further incidents. Where is a whistleblower when you need one?


Benjamin Wofford
Staff Writer

Benjamin Wofford is a contributing editor at Washingtonian.