Friday, February 10, 2006

Abramoff says he met Bush "almost a dozen" times

Abramoff says he met Bush "almost a dozen" times

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jack Abramoff said in correspondence made public on Thursday that President Bush met him "almost a dozen" times, disputing White House claims Bush did not know the former lobbyist at the center of a corruption scandal.

"The guy saw me in almost a dozen settings, and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids. Perhaps he has forgotten everything, who knows," Abramoff wrote in an e-mail to Kim Eisler, national editor for the Washingtonian magazine.

Abramoff added that Bush also once invited him to his Texas ranch.

The messages were made public by the American Progress Action Fund, a liberal activist group. Eisler confirmed their accuracy to Reuters but said he did not intend them to become public.

"They reflect the feeling of frustration he has not just with Bush but with all these guys claiming they didn't know him," said Eisler, who knew Abramoff through a book he wrote about the Pequot Indian tribe.

Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud charges in early January and is cooperating with prosecutors in a corruption probe that could implicate lawmakers and officials across Washington.

Bush has said he never had a discussion with Abramoff and does not remember having his picture taken with him.

The White House has said Abramoff attended three Hanukkah receptions at the White House.

Eisler said he had seen five photographs of Abramoff with Bush, none taken at Hanukkah parties.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Thursday that the revelations did not prove Bush knew him well.

"I think as the president also indicated, he's taken at least five photos with many people in this room at the annual holiday reception. And so I think you need to put this in context," McClellan said.

Abramoff spokesman Andrew Blum declined to comment.

Abramoff raised more than $100,000 for Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, a feat that won him an invitation to Bush's ranch in August 2003, the National Journal reported at the time.

"I was invited during the 2004 campaign," Abramoff told Eisler.

Abramoff said he did not make the trip because as an Orthodox Jew he cannot travel on Saturdays.

In the wake of Abramoff's indictment, the Bush-Cheney campaign said it would donate to charity $6,000 in contributions made by Abramoff or his clients, but not the money he helped raise.

The White House has acknowledged he participated in a few staff-level meetings at the White House.

Although the Abramoff scandal has mostly focused attention so far on prominent House Republicans, including former Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, at least two Bush administration officials have been implicated.

David Safavian, a former White House budget official, has been charged with lying and obstructing investigations into his 2002 golf outing to Scotland with Abramoff.

Stephen Griles, the former No. 2 official at the Interior Department, has come under scrutiny after allegations he tried to block a casino at Abramoff's request.