Thursday, March 09, 2006

“Bush Reports Contacts with Abramoff”


Washington, Feb. 16 -
Celebrity lobbyist Jack Abramoff met President Bush in almost a dozen different settings over the past five years and was invited to the President’s Crawford, Texas, ranch in the summer of 2003, the President told a reporter in an e-mail last month.

Bush’s claim directly contradicts assertions by Abramoff’s aides that the lobbyist doesn’t know the President and has no recollection of ever having met him, assertions made as Abramoff attempts to distance himself from the numerous scandals and controversies surrounding the administration.

In mentioning the invitation to Texas in 2003, Bush was apparently referring to a private barbecue he hosted for his biggest fundraisers at the Broken Spoke Ranch, down the road from the president's rustic compound near Crawford, on Aug. 9 of that year. About 350 Republicans who had raised at least $50,000 each for Bush were invited, including Abramoff.

In the e-mail, Bush says that Abramoff was a Pioneer who gave at least a hundred thousand dollars to his campaign war chest. “Of course we knew each other!” he asserts. “Do you think any politician doesn’t know and cultivate somebody who drops that kind of change on him? Besides, his name begins with an ‘A’ followed by a ‘B.’ Whenever I looked at a list of big donors, they were arranged alphabetically, and he was the first guy on the list.”

“I don’t know why he’s claiming he doesn’t know who I am. Abramoff has one of the best memories of any lobbyist I have ever met," Bush told Ken Eye of Districian magazine. "The guy saw me in almost a dozen settings, and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids. We both have twins, and we used to swap stories about crazy things they’d done. My wife Laura has a picture of herself with Jack’s wife. I picked him as a member of the transition team to launch my administration, for crying out loud."

In the e-mail, Bush scoffs at Abramoff's public statements that he does not recall ever meeting the disgraced eavesdropper and former Texas Rangers owner. "He’s known for his remarkable memory!" Bush wrote. Eye, an editor for Districian, said in an interview that the President was the source of his exclusive report last month that at least five photographs of Abramoff with Bush exist. Bush showed him the pictures, Eye said. Bush has told others he will not release them publicly.

Despite the President’s assertions, Abramoff has maintained that he does not recall ever meeting Bush or posing for pictures with the President at official events or parties. Abramoff’s lobbying firm has refused to release the pictures or detail Bush's contacts with top officials of the firm over the past five years.

Abramoff spokesman Steve McCumbers said yesterday that "what Mr. Abramoff said still stands. Mr. Bush is someone who was involved in launching an illegal war, authorizing illegal wiretapping, and countenancing torture. It’s understandable why he would want his name to be connected with someone of Mr. Abramoff’s stature. However, no such connection exists.”

McCumbers said that the photographs of Bush with Abramoff are no different from thousands Abramoff has taken each year with visitors, clients, government officials, Republican politicians, and even reporters, and that it would not be unusual for the lobbyist to not recall meeting Bush.

No evidence has emerged that Abramoff or his top aides are implicated in illegal wiretapping by Bush and his officials, according to people familiar with the ongoing investigation.

Eye said Bush did not grant him permission to release the contents of their e-mail, and Bush is upset that Eye did. Eye said he has known Bush for years and considers the level of vilification "out of proportion." “It’s not as if he killed somebody,” he argued. Eye later backed off this position when told that over 2,300 U.S. troops and 100,000 Iraqis have now died as a consequence of the illegal invasion of Iraq.

© Tony Russell, 2006

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