Sunday, January 22, 2006

TIME magazine says Bush photographed with Abramoff

TIME magazine says Bush photographed with Abramoff

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - At least five photos show U.S. President George W. Bush with the lobbyist at the center of a corruption scandal, TIME magazine reported on Sunday.

The White House has tried to play down any contact with Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to fraud charges this month and agreed to help prosecutors in a congressional corruption investigation.

TIME did not publish the photographs, saying its source refused to provide them for publication. Most look like those taken at presidential receptions, it said.

The White House has said Bush does not know Abramoff and does not recall meeting him, and that the lobbyist attended two Hannukah receptions and a few staff-level meetings at the White House.

"Mr. Abramoff admitted being involved in outrageous wrongdoing," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said on Sunday.

"The president does not recall meeting him. We have previously indicated, however, it would not be surprising if the president met him at some of the widely attended events we know they both attended," she said. "The president has taken tens upon thousands of pictures at such events."

TIME said in one photograph Bush appears with Abramoff and Raul Garza, then chairman of the Kickapoo Indians, which owned a casino in Texas and were represented by the lobbyist. It also included several other unidentified people.

TIME quotes White House spokeswoman Erin Healy as saying that available records show Abramoff was not at the event attended by Garza.

Another photo shows Bush shaking hands with Abramoff in front of a window and a blue drape, the magazine said. The photo carries Bush's signature, which may have been machine-made, it said.

Three other photos show Bush, Abramoff and one of the lobbyist's sons, the magazine said.

Prosecutors are investigating whether members of Congress gave the lobbyist and his clients favorable treatment in return for campaign contributions or gifts. The scandal broke as Republicans try to retain control of Congress in mid-term elections in November.

Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, who has denied wrongdoing, is under investigation in the scandal. Rep. Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican who stepped down as majority leader, has been under a cloud due to his association with Abramoff.

The Republican National Committee has said Bush's re-election campaign was giving to charity $6,000 in contributions linked to Abramoff.