Dems want details on Bush contacts with tainted lobbyist

Democrats called on the White House on Friday to explain a congressional report showing many contacts with Jack Abramoff, but aides to President George W. Bush dismissed the notion the disgraced lobbyist wielded any influence.

Abramoff and his associates have pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and related crimes, in an influence-peddling scandal that Democrats are using this election season to wrest control of Congress from the Republicans.

"For months, White House officials have refused to be straight with the American people about Jack Abramoff," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

"Now we know the truth: a disgraced lobbyist traded perks and campaign contributions for special access to the Bush White House," she said.

A report by a House of Representatives panel found Abramoff and his lobbying team had about 485 contacts with the White House, including 10 with Karl Rove, who is Bush’s top political adviser.

E-mails and billing records were used to compile the report by the House Government Reform Committee that looked at the period spanning three years ended in 2003.

The lobbyists offered dinners, drinks and concert tickets to officials, according to the billing records. It was not clear whether they violated lobbying laws or a ban on gifts.

The White House sought to cast doubt on the report’s credibility, saying it was based on material from Abramoff who had an incentive to exaggerate his clout to clients.


"I’ll tell you what it accurately portrays is the fact that Jack Abramoff was an exuberant practitioner of sleaze, to the point where it’s very difficult within the report itself to figure out how many actual contacts there are," said White House spokesman Tony Snow.

Snow said many of the contacts cited in the report appeared to be instances where Abramoff or his associates had run into U.S. officials at sporting events or at Washington dinners.

Rep. Henry Waxman of California, senior Democrat on the government reform panel, said he planned to talk with the committee’s chairman Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, to seek a wider investigation.

"We need to know more from the White House … we need to hear more clearly from the White House on the questions raised," Waxman said.

Among the questions Waxman said he wanted answered were whether officials accepted items like concert tickets and whether they reported them on financial disclosure forms.

The Democratic lawmaker also said he wanted to know if the contacts with Ken Mehlman — who was then head of political affairs at the White House — had anything to do with the federal allotment of $16 million for a jail for the Mississippi Choctaw Indian tribe, an Abramoff client.

Abramoff and his team claimed to have lobbied the White House political affairs office 17 times. In six of the instances, the documents describe contact with Mehlman, who is now chairman of the Republican Party.

Pressed on whether Abramoff influenced decisions at the White House, Snow pointed to a part of the report that referred to 20 instances where the lobbyist recommended people for administration jobs and only one was followed.

"The fact is, if he was telling people that he was getting results, they were getting ripped off," Snow said.

© Reuters 2006