Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ambramoff Associates Say He Claimed Close Ties to White House Through Karl Rove

ABC News
Abramoff Said to Claim Close Ties to Rove
Ambramoff Associates Say He Claimed Close Ties to White House Through Karl Rove
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Three former associates of Jack Abramoff said Monday that the now-disgraced lobbyist frequently told them during his lobbying work he had strong ties to the White House through presidential confidant Karl Rove.

The White House said Monday that Rove remembers meeting Abramoff at a 1990s political meeting and considered the lobbyist a "casual acquaintance" since President Bush took office in 2001.

New questions have arisen about Abramoff's ties to the White House since a photo emerged over the weekend showing Abramoff with Bush. Also surfacing were the contents of an e-mail from Abramoff to Washingtonian magazine claiming he had met briefly with the president nearly a dozen times.

Three former business associates of Abramoff, who worked with the lobbyist in various roles between 2001 and 2004, told The Associated Press that Abramoff routinely mentioned Rove when talking about his influence inside the White House.

One said he was present when Abramoff took a call from Rove's office to confirm a White House meeting had been approved between Malaysia's prime minister and Bush in May 2002. Abramoff was being paid by Malaysia for helping it in Washington, according to evidence the Senate has made public.

All three associates would describe the Abramoff comments only on condition of anonymity, citing the ongoing investigation of Abramoff's work and fears that speaking out could affect their current businesses. At least one said he had been interviewed by the FBI.

Abramoff was a $100,000 fundraiser for Bush and lobbying records obtained by the AP show his lobbying team logged nearly 200 meetings with the administration during its first 10 months in office on behalf of one of his clients, the Northern Mariana Islands.

The contacts between Abramoff's team and the administration included meetings with Attorney General John Ashcroft and policy advisers to Vice President Dick Cheney, the AP reported last year.

Abramoff's former assistant, Susan Ralston, went to work for Rove in 2001. Abramoff's legal team declined comment Monday night.

Abramoff has pleaded guilty in a fraud and bribery conspiracy case and is cooperating with prosecutors' investigation into those in Congress and the administration he used to lobby.

Asked about the three former Abramoff associates' account, the White House said Rove shared a common past with Abramoff as leaders of a young Republicans group decades ago.

"Mr. Rove remembers they had met at a political event in the 1990s," White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said. "Since then, he would describe him as a casual acquaintance."

Healy said Rove has "no recollection" of talking to Abramoff about the Malaysian prime minister's meeting in May 2002. She said Bush first met the prime minister at a foreign summit in October 2001 and that the 2002 meeting in the Oval Office was "another opportunity to get together to discuss the war on terror."