White House aides told to hide photos of Bush with Abramoff

President Bush is often referred to as the “photo op” President but Whtie House aides now scramble to hide photos that show Bush with scandal-ridden GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

At least a half-dozen White House officials have been told about pictures of President Bush and Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff taken since 2001 but are under orders to not release them or discuss details of the photos while claiming they are not relevant.

“Trying to say there’s more to it than the president taking a picture in a photo line is just absurd,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

Capitol Hill Blue first reported on January 18 that Bush often met with Abramoff and that the lobbyist had an autographed photo of the two together in his office.

Abramoff, who has copped a guilty plea in the rapidly growing bribery and corruption scandal, met with Bush about a dozen times when pictures were taken by the official White House photographer or other participants over the past five years, according to a source familiar with Abramoff’s legal situation, the Washington Post reported yesterday. Abramoff, this source said, displayed at least five of them on his office desk and has told people the president talked about his children’s names as well as personal details about their schooling during one encounter.

The source said Abramoff has more than half a dozen photos with Bush, including one of the two men shaking hands, but has no intention of releasing them. The existence of the Bush-Abramoff photos was also reported by Washingtonian magazine, which reviewed five photos but was not permitted to publish them.

“Public photographs could damage Bush’s efforts to insulate himself from a scandal that has scorched numerous other Republicans,” the Post reports. “A vivid image of Bush shaking hands and smiling with Abramoff would provide fuel for news coverage and commentary, even if such “grip-and-grin” shots are commonplace for most politicians.”

But Jennifer Palmieri, a former Clinton communications aide, told the Post, “If TV is showing a picture of George Bush and Jack Abramoff, it immediately brings the poster boy for abuse into the Oval Office.”

Clinton White House aides know the damage a photo can cause. When the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke it was fueled by both photo and film footage of the President greeting Lewinsky in a White House rope line.

Political strategists say Bush’s attempts to lie his way out of a relationship with Abramoff ranks with Clinton’s public declaration of “I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.”