White House Confirms Abramoff Photo

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
The White House on Sunday acknowledged the authenticity of the first photograph made public that shows President Bush and embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, while stressing it does not mean the two had a personal relationship.

The photo, published by The New York Times and Time magazine, shows Mr. Bush shaking hands with an Abramoff client, chairman Raul Garza of the Kickapoo Indian tribe in Texas. Abramoff's bearded face appears in the background, small and slightly blurry.

White House spokesman Allen Abney said the photo was taken in 2001, when the president dropped by a meeting of about two dozen state legislators to thank them for supporting tax relief.

Originally, the White House said it had no record of Abramoff's attendance at the meeting.

"We now know that Mr. Abramoff attended this meeting," Abney said Sunday. "The president has taken tens of thousands of pictures. This does not mean he has a personal relationship with each individual that is in those pictures."

The White House would not release the photo or any others that Mr. Bush had taken with Abramoff, who helped raise more than $100,000 for the president's re-election campaign. Abramoff has since pleaded guilty to federal charges related to an influence-peddling scandal on Capitol Hill.

"The White House in a way has made this an issue," Time magazine's Matt Cooper told CBS News' The Early Show. "They have been asked about photographs of Abramoff, who has been to the White House a number of times at events with the president. They've steadfastly refused.

"There's been a lot of curiosity about these photos that Time obtained," Cooper continued. "It doesn't show them in a deep embrace, but this was a special kind of meeting. It was a very small group. Jack Abramoff's clients are there with the president. And so it's interesting, but not earthshaking."

Mr. Bush has said that he had his picture taken with Abramoff an unknown number of times, but he doesn't remember any of them.

Abramoff, however, said in recently disclosed e-mail messages that he met Mr. Bush "almost a dozen" times.

"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 of the Washingtonian magazine.

Abramoff added that Mr. Bush "has one of the best memories of any politician I have ever met … though of course he can't recall that he has a great memory!"

Portions of the e-mails were made public last week by a liberal Web site, thinkprogress.org.

The New York Times reports Eisler acknowledged sharing the e-mails with a writer for the site, but didn't realize they would be made public.

"I considered them confidential e-mails, and it was a slip on my part to release a portion of them," Eisler said.

Asked about the e-mail messages Thursday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, "I think what the president says still stands: Mr. Abramoff is someone who was involved in wrongdoing, he has acknowledged that himself."