Abramoff Had White House Juice, Report Says
A congressional investigation has found that lobbyist Jack Abramoff influenced some actions by the White House by lavishing exclusive sports tickets and meals on political staffers in the executive mansion, but the panel has uncovered no indication that President Bush had a role in the actions, reports The Post's James Grimaldi.
In a draft report, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found no evidence that Abramoff lobbied President Bush on at least six occasions when the superlobbyist met with the president. Though photographs taken of Bush and Abramoff confirm personal contacts, there was no evidence found that the president directed an action in response to a request from the lobbyist.
The main action taken by the White House at Abramoff's request -- according to the report -- was to remove Alan Stayman from the State Department position that oversaw the relationship with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a major client of Abramoff and his Greenberg Traurig lobbying firm. Stayman had taken positions that were opposed by the island's government, the report says.
Abramoff's activities are the subject of an ongoing federal investigation that has resulted in more than dozen convictions so far of Congressional aides, lobbyists and public officials. The disgraced lobbyist is serving a prison sentence on a related fraud while he awaits sentencing in the lobbying scandal.
The report was the second by the committee on contacts with the White House. An earlier report found that tickets were given to staffers and that Abramoff and his colleagues billed their clients for more than 400 contacts with White House officials between 2001 and 2004, but new details were released today:
* Senior advisor Karl Rove paid Abramoff $150 for three tickets to the NCAA basketball tournament on March 17, 2002, and Rove also had use of the suite at the Verizon Center to treat his class of College Republicans to a Nov. 9, 2002 Washington Capitols hockey game.
* Matt Kirk, special assistant to the president in the intergovernmental affairs office, got tickets to two basketball games, one Wizards outing and an NCAA tournament game.
* Jennifer Farley, associate director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, got tickets to two Orioles games and a Yanni concert.
Farley on occasion apparently used a code word -- "fruit" -- to refer to tickets. On Dec. 12, 2002, Farley asked Abramoff lobbyist Kevin Ring, "Do you have any kind of fruit tonight?" Ring replied, "No games tonight." In another email regarding an issue of interest to an Abramoff client, Ring said, "The fruit is going to happen. Just trying to make sure it is picked on the right day."
In a deposition with the committee, Farley did not respond to questions about the matter and indicated she would invoked her Fifth Amendment rights if compelled to respond, the committee report said.
The earlier report found offers of tickets to 19 sporting events and concerts, but had not concluded whether they were accepted.
On three occasions, White House employees turned down free tickets. Matt Schlapp, a deputy director in the White House political office, turned down a ticket offer from Abramoff associate Tony Rudy because of "ethics rules on this end of the street, and I'm way too broke" to pay for them.
The committee tried to track down references in Abramoff documents of 156 outings over drinks and meals to determine who paid for the socializing. White House documents released to the committee corroborate 15 meetings between White House officials and Abramoff lobbyists over meals and drinks, including 11 billed to Abramoff's clients. Another 145 meals and drinks could not be confirmed, the report said.
In response to the report, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said today: "There's nothing new of any significance in it. it is warmed-up leftovers. It confirms what has become clear in all of this -- Abramoff was spectacularly unsuccessful in influencing administration policy."
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