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.

    Abramoff,
    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.

    In
    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.

    Bush
    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 http://www.doi.gov/initiatives/foia.html because officials wanted to ensure it would be widely circulated.

    The photo represents the second time Abramoff and Norton met.

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

    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
    said.

    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.

    __

    On the Net:

    Interior Department: http://www.doi.gov/