White House Disputes Abramoff Ties

Jack Abramoff, foreground, leaves Federal Court in Washington Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2006. The once-powerful lobbyist pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud, agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors investigating influence peddling that has threatened powerful members of the U.S. Congress. At right is his attorney Abbe Lowell. AP

Since the Jack Abramoff scandal broke, reporters have been digging hard for pictures that prove the disgraced lobbyist's ties to the White House. Now, two publications claim to have found them.

The Washingtonian and Time magazine both reported the existence of about a half-dozen photos showing the two together. They appeared to have been taken at White House functions, according to the reports.

The White House insists the pictures amount to a coincidence and should not be interpreted any more seriously than that.

acknowledged Monday that Abramoff has attended some events where people "go through receiving lines and get photos with the president." But, he said, "The president does not have a personal relationship with Mr. Abramoff."

Mr. Bush himself has said that he doesn't recall meeting Abramoff, the once powerful lobbyist who recently pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from his lobbying practices and has pledged to cooperate with government prosecutors.

Bartlett told CBS News' The Early Show, "I don't think that would be fair to jump to any conclusions just because the president took a picture with somebody. People understand that the president of the United States goes to events like these all the time in which there will be people who get their pictures with the president. If somebody wants to jump to the wrong conclusion and say something nefarious was happening, they would be very wrong. I think it's much ado about nothing in that regard."

The White House insists that even though Abramoff was a big-money donor to the president's re-election campaign, he never got any quality time with Mr. Bush.

"The president does not know him, nor does the president ever recall meeting him," White House spokesman Scott McCellan said Sunday.

Behind the scenes, the Washingtonian magazine reports that Abramoff says not only did the president know him, but Mr. Bush knew details about his family, his twin children, even their names.

The White House has not released any photos featuring the president and Abramoff, who was declared a Bush "pioneer" for raising at least $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney '04 re-election campaign.

The Bush-Cheney campaign donated contributions that came directly from Abramoff, his wife and one of the American Indian tribes he represented — a total of $6,000 — to charity just days after Abramoff entered his guilty pleas.

CBS News correspondent Joie Chen reports Time's sources did not allow the magazine to print any of the sources, so the hunt for the photos is on.

Whatever the truth, analysts suggest it may be time for Mr. Bush to put his cards on the table.

"This president and the White House err on the side of saying as little as possible when they want a story to go away," political analyst Craig Crawford told the Early Show. And that sometimes leads to a sense that "there's more to it, that they are hiding something."

The White House, after playing down the Bush-Abramoff photos and the lobbyist's ties to the president, criticized Abramoff for breaking the law. "Mr. Abramoff admitted being involved in outrageous wrongdoing," spokeswoman Dana Perino said Sunday.
  • Gina Pace

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