White House-lobbyist contacts documented

September 29, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan congressional report documents hundreds of contacts between White House officials and the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his partners, including at least 10 direct contacts between Abramoff and Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist.

The report by the House Government Reform Committee, based on e-mail messages and other records subpoenaed from Abramoff's lobbying firm, found 485 contacts between Abramoff's lobbying team and White House officials from 2001 to 2004, including 82 with Rove's office.

The lobbyists spent almost $25,000 in meals and drinks for the White House officials and also provided them with tickets to numerous sporting events and concerts, according to the report, scheduled for release today.

The authors of the report said it was generally unclear from available records whether the aides reimbursed Abramoff for the meals or tickets. Ethics rules bar White House officials from accepting gifts worth more than $20 from lobbyists.

A White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said yesterday that while White House officials had not seen the report, earlier evidence showed that Abramoff had exaggerated his ties to the administration and had been "ineffective in terms of getting government officials to take actions." She added, "It's a real shame that so many of his clients were taken advantage of, lied to and ripped off."

The report describes several instances in which Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to bribe public officials, failed to get the action he desired from the White House, and it described as "mixed" his overall record in lobbying the White House on his clients' behalf. But the report also suggests that Abramoff's lobbying resulted in Bush administration actions that benefited Abramoff clients, including decisions to distribute millions of dollars in federal funds to Indian tribes with large gambling operations.

After an especially aggressive lobbying campaign in 2001 and 2002, involving 73 contacts with White House officials, Abramoff claimed credit for a Bush administration decision to release $16.3 million to a Mississippi tribe for jail construction despite opposition from the Justice Department, the report found.

A copy of the bipartisan report was provided to The New York Times by congressional officials who were granted anonymity because the document had not been released publicly.

Rove has described Abramoff as a "casual acquaintance," but the records obtained by the House committee show that Rove and his aides sought Abramoff's help in obtaining seats at sporting events and sat with Abramoff in the lobbyist's box seats for an NCAA playoff basketball game in 2002.

After the game, Abramoff described Rove in an e-mail to a colleague: "He's a great guy. Told me anytime we need something just let him know through Susan." The e-mail was referring to Susan Ralston, Abramoff's former secretary, who joined the White House in February 2001 as Rove's executive assistant.

Ralston, who did not return phone calls seeking comment, was lobbied scores of times by Abramoff and his lobbying partners, the report found, and was instrumental in passing messages between Abramoff and senior officials at the White House, including Rove and Ken Mehlman.

Mehlman, now chairman of the Republican National Committee, was then a senior White House political strategist. A committee spokeswoman, Tracey Schmitt, said yesterday that in his White House job, "it was not unusual that Mr. Mehlman would be in contact with supporters who had interest in administration policy."

In October 2001, the report said, Abramoff asked the White House to withhold an endorsement from a Republican candidate for governor of the Northern Marianas Islands, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific where Abramoff had lobbying clients; Abramoff was backing another candidate.

On Oct. 31, 2001, the report said, Ralston sent an e-mail to Abramoff that read: "You win :) KR said no endorsement."

In March 2002, the report said, Abramoff contacted Ralston to offer tickets to Rove and his family for use of a skybox at the MCI Center in Washington for the NCAA tournament.

"Hi Susan," Abramoff wrote in an e-mail. "I just saw Karl and mentioned the NCAA opportunity, which he was really jazzed about. If he wants to join us in the Pollin box, please let me know as soon as you can."

Ralston replied: "Karl is interested in Fri. and Sun. 3 tickets for his family?"

Abramoff responded: "Done. Does he want to go Friday night or Friday afternoon or both?" The report said that Rove offered to pay for the tickets, prompting Abramoff to propose that Rove pay $50 per ticket.

The report identified a number of e-mails in which Abramoff referred to Rove and his visits to Signatures, a Washington restaurant owned by Abramoff.

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