White House conceals details of Bush’s relationship with tainted lobbyist

The White House is hiding details of scandal-ridden lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s meetings and discussions with President Bush’s and other administration staff.

Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan will admit only that Abramoff had “a few staff-level meetings” at the Bush White House, but would not say with whom Abramoff met, which interests he was representing or how he got access to the White House.

But White House sources tell Capitol Hill Blue that Abramoff also met personally with Bush on “numerous occasions” at both the White House and at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Since Abramoff pleaded guilty two weeks ago to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion charges in an influence-peddling scandal, McClellan has told reporters he was checking into Abramoff’s meetings. “I’m making sure that I have a thorough report back to you on that,” he said in his press briefing Jan. 5. “And I’ll get that to you, hopefully very soon.”

McClellan said Tuesday that he checked on it at reporters’ requests, but wouldn’t discuss the private staff-level meetings. “We are not going to engage in a fishing expedition,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, along with three other Democratic senators, wrote Bush a letter Tuesday asking for an accounting of Abramoff’s personal contacts with Bush administration officials and acts that may have been undertaken at his request. “The American people need to be assured that the White House is not for sale,” they wrote.

McClellan has said Abramoff attended three Hanukkah receptions at the White House, but corrected himself Tuesday to say there were only two — in 2001 and 2002.

McClellan claims Bush does not know Abramoff personally, although it’s possible the two met at the holiday receptions.

Abramoff was one of Bush’s top fundraisers, having brought in at least $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney ’04 re-election campaign and earning the honorary title “pioneer.” The campaign took $6,000 of the contributions — which came directly from Abramoff, his wife and one of the Indian tribes he represented — and donated it to the American Heart Association. But the campaign has not returned the rest of the money Abramoff raised.


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