Another Bush official cozied up to Abramoff

Interior Secretary Gale Norton met often with Jack Abramoff and posed for a photograph in just her second encounter with the scandal-scarred lobbyist, a face-to-face session in her office in 2002.

The photo, made
public Friday evening by Interior officials in response to media
requests, shows Norton, Abramoff, an unnamed man, Chief Phillip Martin
of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and the tribe’s outside
counsel, C. Bryant Rogers.

Norton did not speak with Abramoff and
the Choctaw chief when they met for the photo, Interior spokeswoman
Tina Kreisher claimed Friday. The men waited while Norton finished a
meeting, then posed with her for an official department photo in front
of the large fireplace in her office and left, Kreisher said.

Other sources, however, say Abramoff often met with Norton and had easy access to the Interior Secretary.

who recently pleaded guilty to federal felony charges related to
congressional influence peddling, counted among his clients six Indian
tribes with casinos. The Interior Department oversees Indian affairs.

e-mail exchanges that have been made public, he mentioned having an
inside track in Norton’s Interior Department. He sought congressional
help several times to lobby Norton for tribes, and his clients donated
heavily to an environmental group Norton founded.

In the wake of
the Abramoff scandal, many media outlets have asked for documents
relating to contacts Abramoff had with the Interior Department and
other Bush administration officials.

President Bush himself
appears in photos with the disgraced lobbyist, but the White House has
refused to release the photos the president acknowledges were taken.

has said he would cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating
Abramoff. But the president has said he has taken pictures with
thousands of people and said a photo with Abramoff is not evidence that
they were friends.

In a Washington Post-ABC News poll released
Friday, 76 percent of those surveyed said the Bush administration
should provide a list of all meetings any White House officials have
had with Abramoff.

Kreisher said the Interior Department posted the photo of Norton and Abramoff on its Web site at because officials wanted to ensure it would be widely circulated.

The photo represents the second time Abramoff and Norton met.

lobbyist and one of his clients, a member of the Louisiana Coushatta
tribe, dined with Norton on Sept. 24, 2001, at a private fundraising

The photo had been mentioned in testimony by former
deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles before the Senate Indian
Affairs Committee in November. The shot was arranged by Griles, who
resigned last year.

Until a request for all images of Norton and
Abramoff was filed recently, no one in the department had seen the
photo, Kreisher said. “It wasn’t something we went looking for,” she

She added that the photo is considered a document under the
Freedom of Information Act, and that the department should have
released it to media outlets when they asked for information about
Norton and Abramoff. She said the request for photos was filed by The
Washington Post.


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