Copyrighted material


by Joe Conason

Abramoff Scandals Place GOP Under Fire

The White House possesses several photographs of George W. Bush with Jack Abramoff, the once-powerful Republican fixer who recently pled guilty to bribery and fraud. The snapshots show nothing more than the typical "grip-and-grin" that the president has politely bestowed on thousands of visitors -- or so his flacks assure us. Although the pictures are said to be wholly innocent and commonplace, however, the White House refuses to release them to the press.

Perhaps that's because the pictures might show that when the president says he "doesn't know" Abramoff, he isn't being entirely truthful. He and his handlers still hope to confine the Abramoff scandal to the grubby members of Congress who took golf trips, stadium tickets and free meals from the lobbyist.

With or without pictorial proof, there is ample evidence of the president's connections to him -- enough to provoke a frenzy of questions from the Washington press corps.

Yet the questions at the daily briefings with presidential press secretary Scott McClellan sound muted -- and the official response is an absolute stonewall. McClellan declines not only to provide the photographs, but any records whatsoever of the lobbyist's visits to the White House. He has admitted only that Abramoff met with unnamed "staff" on unspecified occasions to discuss unspecified matters.

Instead of candor, McClellan repeats the same opaque phrases every time a reporter asks about Abramoff's connections with the president and the Bush administration. Asked about the pictures and meetings, he says he won't participate in a "fishing expedition" motivated by "partisan politics." He notes that Abramoff "is being held to account" by the Justice Department. Like his boss, the press secretary hastens to mention that Abramoff clients "contributed to both Democrats and Republicans."

And the president -- for whom Abramoff gathered contributions of at least $100,000 in 2004, which is by far the largest amount that the lobbyist collected for any politician of either party -- insists that he doesn't know the guy.

Now, there was once another scandalous Republican donor whom Bush professed not to know. Ridiculously, he tried to blame his connections with disgraced Enron chief executive Kenneth "Kenny Boy" Lay on Ann Richards, the Democrat who preceded him as governor of Texas.

"I got to know Ken Lay when he was the head of the -- what they call the Governor's Business Council in Texas," said Bush back in 2002. "He was a supporter of Ann Richards in my run in 1994. And she had named him the head of the Governor's Business Council. And I decided to leave him in place, just for the sake of continuity. And that's when I first got to know Ken."

Actually, he and his family had long known Lay, who gave triple the amount to Bush as he did to the incumbent Richards. But their friendship was retroactively erased when prosecutors started to investigate the financial chicanery at Enron.

So skepticism is warranted when he says he doesn't know Abramoff. He stops knowing people when they get in trouble.

It is obvious that the lobbyist was no stranger to the Bush White House. Well before the president took office, Abramoff was named to the Bush transition team for the Department of the Interior. He may not have had any discernible qualifications to oversee that department's appointments, but he had clients on tribal reservations and in the Marianas Islands whose businesses were regulated by Interior officials.

He has been a friend of Karl Rove, the presidential political adviser, for more than a quarter-century. His personal assistant soon showed up as Rove's personal assistant. His associate David Safavian, since indicted, became the administration's chief procurement officer. He told his friends and clients that he could get into the Bush White House -- and get whatever he wanted there.

He proved that boast on May 9, 2001, only four months into the first Bush term, when the president met with two Native American tribal leaders represented by Abramoff. According to a report published in the Texas Observer last June, that meeting was arranged in cooperation with conservative strategist Grover Norquist, another longtime comrade of Rove. There are probably photographs of that May 2001 event, and they must be among the photos that the White House is refusing to release.

Eight years ago, the Clinton White House released photos and videos of President Clinton's coffee meetings with campaign donors and potential donors, following angry demands from politicians and the press. How fortunate for this president that his scandals and prevarications provoke no such outrage.

© Creators Syndicate

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor   January 26, 2006   (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.