Report Links White House and Abramhoff
Report Links White House and Lobbyist
By Philip Shenon
The New York Times
Friday 29 September 2006
Washington - A bipartisan Congressional report documents hundreds of contacts between White House officials and the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his partners, including at least 10 direct contacts between Mr. Abramoff and Karl Rove, the president's chief political strategist.
The House Government Reform Committee report, based on e-mail messages and other records subpoenaed from Mr. Abramoff's lobbying firm, found 485 contacts between Mr. Abramoff's lobbying team and White House officials from 2001 to 2004, including 82 with Mr. Rove's office.
The lobbyists spent almost $25,000 in meals and drinks for the White House officials and provided them with tickets to numerous sporting events and concerts, according to the report, scheduled for release Friday.
The authors of the report said it was generally unclear from available records whether the aides reimbursed Mr. Abramoff for the meals or tickets. Ethics rules bar White House officials from accepting lobbyists' gifts worth more than $20.
A White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said Thursday that while White House officials had not seen the report, earlier evidence showed that Mr. Abramoff had exaggerated his ties to the administration and was "ineffective in terms of getting government officials to take actions."
Ms. Perino added, "It's a real shame that so many of his clients were taken advantage of, lied to and ripped off."
The report describes several instances in which Mr. Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to bribe public officials, failed to get the action he desired from the White House, and described his overall record in lobbying the White House as "mixed." But it also suggests that Mr. Abramoff's lobbying resulted in Bush administration actions that benefited Abramoff clients, including decisions to distribute millions of dollars in federal money to Indian tribes with large gambling operations.
After an especially aggressive lobbying campaign in 2001 and 2002 involving 73 contacts with White House officials, Mr. Abramoff claimed credit for an administration decision to release $16.3 million to a Mississippi tribe for jail construction despite opposition from the Justice Department, the report found.
A copy of the bipartisan report was provided to The New York Times by Congressional officials who were granted anonymity because the document had not been released publicly.
Mr. Rove has described Mr. Abramoff as a "casual acquaintance," but the records obtained by the House committee show that Mr. Rove and his aides sought Mr. Abramoff's help in obtaining seats at sporting events, and that Mr. Rove sat with Mr. Abramoff in the lobbyist's box seats for an N.C.A.A. basketball playoff game in 2002.
After that game, Mr. Abramoff described Mr. Rove in an e-mail message to a colleague: "He's a great guy. Told me anytime we need something just let him know through Susan." The message was referring to Susan Ralson, Mr. Abramoff's former secretary, who joined the White House in February 2001 as Mr. Rove's executive assistant.
Ms. Ralston, who did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday, was lobbied scores of times by Mr. Abramoff and his partners, the report found, and was instrumental in passing messages between Mr. Abramoff and senior officials at the White House, including Mr. Rove and Ken Mehlman.
Mr. Mehlman, now chairman of the Republican National Committee, was then a senior White House political strategist. A national committee spokeswoman, Tracey Schmitt, said Thursday that in Mr. Mehlman's White House job, "it was not unusual" that he "would be in contact with supporters who had interest in administration policy."
In October 2001, the report said, Mr. Abramoff asked the White House to withhold an endorsement from a Republican candidate for governor of the Northern Marianas Islands, an American commonwealth in the western Pacific where Mr. Abramoff had clients; Mr. Abramoff was backing another candidate.
On Oct. 31, 2001, the report said, Ms. Ralson sent an e-mail message to Mr. Abramoff that read: "You win :) KR said no endorsement."
In March 2002, the report said, Mr. Abramoff contacted Ms. Ralson to offer tickets to Mr. Rove and his family for use of a skybox during the N.C.A.A. tournament at the MCI Center in Washington.
"Hi Susan," Mr. Abramoff wrote in an e-mail message." I just saw Karl and mentioned the N.C.A.A. opportunity, which he was really jazzed about. If he wants to join us in the Pollin box, please let me know as soon as you can."
Ms. Ralston replied: "Karl is interested in Fri. and Sun. 3 tickets for his family?"
Mr. Abramoff responded: "Done. Does he want to go Friday night or Friday afternoon or both?" The report said that Mr. Rove offered to pay for the tickets, prompting Mr. Abramoff to propose that Mr. Rove pay $50 per ticket "payable to me personally."
The report cited numerous e-mail messages in which Mr. Abramoff referred to Mr. Rove and his visits to Signatures, a Washington restaurant owned by Mr. Abramoff.
On learning in July 2002 that Mr. Rove planned to dine at Signatures with a party of 8 to 10 people, Mr. Abramoff wrote to a colleague: "I want him to be given a very nice bottle of wine and have Joseph whisper in his ear (only he should hear) that Abramoff wanted him to have this wine on the house." In another e-mail message, Mr. Abramoff directed his restaurant staff to "please put Karl Rove in his usual table."
Ms. Perino, the White House spokeswoman, said the offer of a free bottle of wine was actually proof of how little acquainted Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Rove were because "Karl doesn't drink alcohol."
Disclosure of the report's findings came as a federal judge in Miami agreed on Thursday to delay Mr. Abramoff's imprisonment, but not for as long as the Justice Department wanted.
In court papers this week, the department asked that Mr. Abramoff, who has been sentenced to nearly six years in prison, not have to surrender for three months because of the need for his continued cooperation in the influence-peddling investigation in Washington that is said to involve several members of Congress.
But the judge, Paul C. Huck, agreed to allow Mr. Abramoff to remain free only until Nov. 15, saying "there comes a time when people have to pay the piper." Mr. Abramoff pleaded guilty in Miami as part of an agreement with the Justice Department in which he confessed to corruption charges in Washington, and to fraud charges in Florida involving his purchase of a casino-boat fleet there.
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