Republicans say Bush must be honest about contracts with disgraced lobbyist


    Republican lawmakers Sunday urged President Bush to come clean about
    his contacts with Jack Abramoff, the scandal-scarred lobbyist who has
    pleaded guilty to felony charges in an influence-peddling case.

    Releasing
    the records would help eliminate suspicions that Abramoff, who helped
    raise more than $100,000 for Bush’s re-election campaign, had undue
    influence on the White House, the Republicans said.

    “I’m one who
    believes that more is better, in terms of disclosure and transparency,”
    said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. “And so I’d be a big advocate for making
    records that are out there available.”

    The president has refused
    to reveal how much access Abramoff had to the White House, but has said
    he does not know Abramoff personally. Bush has said federal prosecutors
    are welcome to see the records of Abramoff’s contacts if they suspect
    something inappropriate, but he has not released them publicly.

    Rep.
    Mike Pence, R-Ind., who appeared with Thune on “Fox News Sunday,”, said
    all White House correspondence, phone calls and meetings with Abramoff
    “absolutely” should be released.

    “I think this president is a man
    of unimpeachable integrity,” Pence said. “The American people have
    profound confidence in him. And as Abraham Lincoln said, `Give the
    people the facts and republican governance perhaps will be saved.'”

    Bush
    adviser Dan Bartlett said on CNN’s “Late Edition” that prosecutors
    investigating Abramoff have not asked for any White House records.
    “They haven’t done that because they’re not relevant,” Bartlett said.

    He
    rejected Democratic calls for an independent prosecutor to investigate.
    “Were going to let the career prosecutors do their job and I’ll bet
    they get to the bottom of it,” Bartlett said.

    Bush’s spokesman
    has said Abramoff was admitted to the White House complex for “a few
    staff-level meetings” and Hanukkah receptions in 2001 and 2002. The
    White House will not say how many times the lobbyist came in, who he
    met with or what business he had there.

    Bush said he had his
    picture taken with Abramoff an unknown number of times, but he said he
    doesn’t remember taking them and the two never sat down and had a
    discussion. Bush said he has had his photo taken with thousands of
    people, but that doesn’t mean he knows them well.

    Sen. Chuck
    Hagel, R-Neb., played down the notion that Bush was beholden to
    Abramoff because of a few donations. But Hagel said Bush should release
    the photos to avoid giving Democrats unnecessary political ammunition.

    “Get it out. Get it out. Come on,” Hagel said, adding the photos will eventually leak out anyway.

    “I
    mean, disclosure is the real issue. Whether it’s campaign finance
    issues, whether it’s ethics issues, whether it’s lobbying issues,
    disclosure is the best and most effective way to deal with all of these
    things,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

    Thune said pictures should
    not be released because it is clear that Democrats would use any
    pictures of Bush with Abramoff for political purposes.

    “But I do think it’s important that everybody understand what this guy’s level of involvement was,” Thune said.

    Democrats
    have complained about Bush’s refusal to disclose White House dealings
    with Abramoff, who represented six Indian tribes with casinos and
    several other clients.

    The chairman of the Democratic National
    Committee, Howard Dean, made it clear that Abramoff’s relationship with
    Republicans will be an issue in this year’s congressional campaign. He
    said the DNC plans to file a Freedom of Information Request with the
    Secret Service for all its records of Abramoff’s entries and exits from
    the White House.

    “If the American people will put us back in
    power in ’06, we will have on the president’s desk things that outlaw
    all those kinds of behavior,” Dean said.

    But the comments from
    the Republicans, who hold the majority in Congress, show that it’s not
    just Democrats who would like to see Bush come clean.

    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. Two in three
    Republicans joined with eight in 10 Democrats and political
    independents in favoring disclosure, according to the poll.

    Dean
    said Abramoff is a “Republican scandal” because no Democrat delivered
    anything on behalf of Abramoff, even if the lobbyist directed some
    money to Democrats. If anyone wrote letters on behalf of Abramoff’s
    clients, Dean said, “That’s a big problem, and those Democrats are in
    trouble and they should be in trouble.”

    Senate Democratic leader
    Harry Reid of Nevada sent a letter to the Interior Department on March
    5, 2002, on behalf of the Louisiana Coushattas, an Abramoff client. The
    next day, Reid’s leadership fund got a $5,000 donation from the tribe.

    After
    the show, DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney clarified that Dean meant that
    there is no evidence that Reid or any other Democrat took contributions
    in exchange for official actions.