Imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff was photographed with
President George W. Bush at least six times and had hundreds of lobbying
contacts with White House staff, a House committee�s draft report says.
Hundreds of pages of documents, released Monday by the House
Oversight and Government Reform Committee, show that Abramoff regularly
communicated with former White House political adviser Karl Rove and his
deputies regarding the administration�s domestic agenda.
Abramoff, who pleaded guilty two years ago to corruption
charges, had 485 lobbying contacts with White House officials between January
2001 and March 2004, including 170 meetings over meals and 16 meetings over
drinks, the report said.
Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-California, also
complained that his investigation was hampered by six unnamed individuals who
asserted their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, including
three White House officials.
Waxman�s committee released six photographs of Abramoff and
members of his family posing with Bush at GOP fundraisers and White House
functions. Some of the photos were autographed by the president.
In January 2006, when one such photograph surfaced, Bush
dismissed it as meaningless and insisted he barely knew the man.
�You know, I, frankly, don't even remember having my picture
taken with the guy,� Bush said. �I don't know him. I can't say I didn't ever
meet him, but I meet a lot of people. . . . I've had my picture taken with a
lot of people.�
When the president was pressed for details about whether he
was personally lobbied by Abramoff, Bush said �I've never sat down with him and
had a discussion with the guy.�
The White House also maintained that Abramoff�s relationship
with Bush administration officials was minimal and that the lobbyist was
unsuccessful in influencing policy decisions. Rove called him a �casual
However, the committee report, entitled �Jack Abramoff�s
Contact With White House Officials,� painted a different picture.
�Senior White House officials held Mr. Abramoff and others
on his team in high regard,� the report said. �Communications from Mr. Abramoff
and his associates carried weight with White House officials. In some
instances, White House officials took action that advanced Mr. Abramoff�s
�Other times, White House officials reached out to Mr.
Abramoff and his team to seek their views on policy matters. And the documents
contain examples in which White House officials gave consideration to Mr.
Abramoff�s communications in policy deliberations even though they ultimately
did not take the action requested by Mr. Abramoff.�
The report said Abramoff did succeed in getting the White
House to fire State Department official Alan Stayman, who advocated reforms in
the Northern Mariana Islands that threatened the business interests of
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands paid
Abramoff�s law firm some $6.7 million from 1995 to 2001 to protect the islands�
exemptions from U.S. labor and minimum wage laws, while the U.S. protectorate
was allowed to stamp �Made in the USA� labels on manufactured goods
In one exchange about the trouble being caused by Stayman,
Matt Schlapp, director of the White House Office of Political Affairs from 2003
to 2005, e-mailed Monica Kladakis, deputy associate director of presidential
personnel, to inquire �how do we fix this?�
Kladakis responded: �I think we can do something about it,
but I�m trying to figure out what is the best way to go about it. I don�t want
a firing scandal on our hands.�
Both Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen
Hadley �were informed of Mr. Abramoff�s opposition to Mr Stayman,� the report
said. Rove, who was considered Bush�s closest political adviser, resigned as
White House deputy chief of staff in 2007. Hadley is now national security
The report said White House officials also accepted favors
�White House officials joined Abramoff team members for
expensive meals and . . . White House officials were offered and accepted
expensive tickets to sporting and entertainment events from Abramoff
associates,� the report said.
The tickets included floor-level seats at Washington
Wizards' basketball games, ice-level seats at Washington Capitals' hockey
games, box seats at Baltimore Orioles' baseball games, and prime seats to U2
and Bruce Springsteen concerts.
The records also indicated that Abramoff lobbyists billed
their clients over $24,000 for meals and drinks involving White House
In an apparent effort to keep the contacts out of the
official White House records systems, Abramoff communicated with Rove and
others through non-governmental e-mail accounts that were maintained by the
Republican National Committee.
Waxman�s Oversight Committee first discovered administration
officials were using these non-governmental e-mail accounts last year.
"That investigation found that many of the e-mail
exchanges between Jack Abramoff and White House officials were conducted via
non-governmental e-mail accounts," Waxman said in letters to the RNC and
the Bush/Cheney 2004 Campaign.
Using alternative e-mail accounts to conduct official White
House business is a violation of the Presidential Records Act of 1978 which
states that the records of a president, his immediate staff and specific areas
of the Executive Office of the President belong to the United States, not to
the individual president or his staff.
The act further states that the president must "take
all such steps as may be necessary to assure that the activities,
deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of his
constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are
adequately documented and that such records are maintained as presidential
records pursuant to the requirements of this section and other provisions of
Waxman said that in some cases White House officials were
using alternative e-mail accounts to avoid creating an automatic paper trail of
their communications about hot-button political issues.
For instance, Waxman said Abramoff sent an e-mail to Rove�s
assistant, Susan Ralston, which asked her to �pass on to Karl that Interior is
about to approve a gaming compact . . . for a tribe which is an anathema to all
our supporters" and requesting "some quiet message from WH that this
The e-mail was forwarded to Jennifer Farley, an official in
the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs who apparently warned Kevin
Ring, an Abramoff associate, about the risk of creating an official record.
�I don't know what to think about this, but she said it is
better not to put this stuff in writing in their e-mail system because it might
actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be
lawsuits, etc.,� Ring told Abramoff. �Just letting you know what she
Abramoff responded to that exchange, according to Waxman,
writing in an e-mail, "Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her rnc pager and
was not supposed to go into the WH system."
Leopold is the author of "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit
www.newsjunkiebook.com for a
new website is The Public Record.