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by Michael Winship

White House Stonewalls Bush Links To Abramoff

Very well, ladies and gentlemen, I'm prepared to get this over with. No more dissembling, no more stalling.

In the distance, Linda Ronstadt sang "Desperado"

Today, I am releasing all the photographs of myself and the President of the United States.

Okay, it's only one. And it's not of this president.

It was taken ten years ago, in early May. We were in rehearsal for the last of five "In Performance at the White House" specials on which I worked for public television, preparing brief remarks for the President and Mrs. Clinton.

On the South Lawn, Linda Ronstadt was going through her set, singing hits like "Blue Bayou" and "Desperado." President Clinton, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, was working and listening on the Truman Balcony. He decided to come pay a visit, shaking hands with the crew as he made his way over to the stage.

For the record, at no time did we discuss policy, nor did any of us attempt to lobby or influence the president's decision-making. As for my White House-related contributions, they were:

Disposable camera for production assistant -- $9.50
Roll of Certs for uniformed Secret Service guard -- $1.00
TOTAL: $10.50.

So, President Bush, it's your turn. I showed you mine, you show me yours. Break out the snaps of you and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Let's see 'em. And while we're at it, give us the dates of and names of those in attendance at the various White House "staff-level" meetings Abramoff attended.

By now, you know that the White House has refused to release that information or those "grip-and-grin" photographs of President Bush with Abramoff at various White House functions, including two Hanukah receptions at which, presumably, Karl Rove and press secretary Scott McClellan were in charge of spinning the dreidel (during Passover, the afikomen is hidden in the Rose Garden amongst the Weapons of Mass Destruction.).

The president, with visions of Monica on the rope line dancing in his head, told last week's press conference, "Those pictures will be used for pure political purposes and they're not relevant to the investigation." But as a source told Monday's Washington Times, "The White House is making too much a mystery out of this and needs to release the dates, times, details and photos of the visits. It's not like [Abramoff and Mr. Bush] were plotting to overthrow Iraq." An increasing number of Republicans agree. Still, is there something you're not telling us?

The chief executive's hooks even have reached into the realm of commercial photography. Joshua Micah Marshall, of the indispensable Talking Points Memo website, found a company called Reflections Photography that sells photos taken at Republican events. Sure enough, noted for sale in their on-line catalogue was a photo of the president and Smilin' Jack.

But, as Marshall reported, "When we went to the page for the photograph... the page in question had disappeared from the site. Indeed, in the sequence of photographs from the event in question, each had a unique identification number in perfect consecutive order. All were there, in sequence, with the exception of the one that was apparently that of President Bush and Abramoff."

where's waldo

It also had been erased from a compact disc kept in the company's archive: "The woman from Reflections told me that that this sometimes happened when the White House wanted to prevent the public from accessing certain photographs of the president."

Ah, the imperial presidency. Except that in this case, instead of "Off with their heads!" it's "Off with their headshots!"

It would be silly but for the fact that it's so emblematic of this administration's regal, arrogant attitude toward the public and its right to know.

Whether warrantless wiretapping or the treatment of foreign detainees, we are now meant to hail the exaltation of the executive over the other branches of government, abrogating the system of checks and balances that keeps democracy off life support.

You can set your Louis Quatorze clock by the regularity with which the royal will imposes itself.

Tick: Noel Hillman, chief prosecutor in the Abramoff corruption probe, is nominated to a Federal judgeship by the president and steps down from the case, just as the investigation is gathering steam and may be edging closer to executive branch staff members. Coincidence, says the White House, but a Justice official admits to Time Magazine, "The timing is an issue."

Tock: Sunday's edition of the British newspaper the Daily Mail reported on further allegations that President Bush (with Tony Blair) "connived to dupe the United Nations" and decided to go to war in Iraq "regardless of whether they obtained UN backing."

President Bush, the newspaper reported, quoting a new edition of law professor Philippe Sands' book, "Lawless World," "displayed his contempt for the UN, made a series of wild threats against Saddam Hussein and showed a devastating ignorance about the catastrophic aftermath of the war."

Tick: the White House refuses to turn over to Congress documents relevant to its investigation of administration actions around Hurricane Katrina. Officials have been barred from interviews or refuse to answer questions.

Tock: the head of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies is told to keep his mouth shut about global warming. James Hansen believes if temperatures keep climbing at their current rate the Atlantic will soon be lapping at the doorway of my lower Manhattan apartment building. But the White House doesn't want you or me to know that. And so it goes.

"Shall we have a king?" was the question put to George Washington in 1787 by John Jay, the man who would become the Supreme Court's first chief justice. Back then, the response was a resounding, "No."

Today's White House acts as if that was the wrong answer. But lawsuits and court challenges have begun. Three out of four Americans say Bush should disclose contacts between aides and Abramoff. Voices are raised. There's some hope: more and more, it seems, we, the people, are not amused.

© 2006 Messenger Post Newspapers

Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York

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Albion Monitor   January 31, 2006   (

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