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GOP To Bush: Come Clean On Abramoff

Some of President Bush's fellow Republicans in Congress are urging him to publicly disclose White House contacts with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Releasing records would help eliminate suspicions that Abramoff, who assisted in raising more than $100,000 for Mr. Bush's re-election campaign but has since pleaded guilty to felonies, had undue influence on the administration, they said in television interviews Sunday.

"I'm one who believes that more is better, in terms of disclosure and transparency," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. "And so I'd be a big advocate for making records that are out there available."

Mr. Bush has refused to reveal how much access Abramoff had to the White House, but has said he does not know Abramoff personally. He has said federal prosecutors are welcome to see the records of Abramoff's contacts if they suspect something inappropriate, but he has not released them publicly.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who appeared with Thune on "Fox News Sunday," said all White House correspondence, phone calls and meetings with Abramoff "absolutely" should be released.

"I think this president is a man of unimpeachable integrity," Pence said. "The American people have profound confidence in him. And as Abraham Lincoln said, `Give the people the facts and republican governance perhaps will be saved."'

Bush adviser Dan Bartlett said on CNN's "Late Edition" that prosecutors investigating Abramoff have not asked for any White House records. "They haven't done that because they're not relevant," he said.

Bartlett rejected Democratic calls for an independent prosecutor to investigate. "Were going to let the career prosecutors do their job, and I'll bet they get to the bottom of it," he said.

Mr. Bush's spokesman has said Abramoff was admitted to the White House complex for "a few staff-level meetings" and Hanukkah receptions in 2001 and 2002. The White House will not say how many times the lobbyist came in, who he met with or what business he had there.

The president has said he had his picture taken with Abramoff an unknown number of times, but the two never sat down for a discussion. He said he has had his photo taken with thousands of people, but that doesn't mean he knows them well.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., played down the notion that the president was beholden to Abramoff because of donations. But he said Mr. Bush should release the photos to avoid giving Democrats unnecessary political ammunition.

"Get it out. Get it out. Come on," Hagel said, adding the photos will eventually leak out anyway.

Democrats have complained about Mr. Bush's refusal to disclose White House dealings with Abramoff, who represented six Indian tribes with casinos and several other clients.

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, on Fox, made it clear that Abramoff's relationship with Republicans will be an issue in this year's congressional campaign. He said the DNC plans to file a Freedom of Information request with the Secret Service for all its records of Abramoff's entries and exits from the White House.

The Abramoff scandal may be sending shockwaves through Washington, but a CBS News/New York Times poll (.pdf)released last week shows many Americans suspect the practice of giving and taking bribes is just business as usual in D.C. An overwhelming 77 percent of those polled say it's simply how things work in Congress.

Thirty-six percent say members of both parties are equally likely to trade a vote for a bribe or a gift. Twenty-eight percent say the Republicans in Congress are most willing to take bribes; fewer than half that number, 13 percent, say the Democrats are.

Dean said Abramoff is a "Republican scandal" because no Democrat delivered anything on behalf of Abramoff, even if the lobbyist directed some money to Democrats. If anyone wrote letters on behalf of Abramoff's clients, Dean said, "That's a big problem, and those Democrats are in trouble and they should be in trouble."

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada sent a letter to the Interior Department on March 5, 2002, on behalf of the Louisiana Coushattas, an Abramoff client. The next day, Reid's leadership fund got a $5,000 donation from the tribe.

After the show, DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney said Dean meant that there is no evidence that Reid or any other Democrat took contributions in exchange for official actions.