Republicans Call for Bush to Reveal All on Abramoff

Times Staff Writer

Three Republican lawmakers Sunday urged President Bush to disclose who in the White House had met with lobbyist Jack Abramoff and what was discussed in those meetings.

Abramoff, once one of the most influential lobbyists in Washington, pleaded guilty this month to criminal charges in a bribery probe that is expected to involve members of Congress and possibly the Interior Department.

But his contacts also reached into the White House: Abramoff was a major fundraiser for Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, and he had his photo taken several times with the president. Last week, Bush told reporters that the two had no personal relationship.


Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, has said the photos are typical of receiving-line pictures at large White House events. The administration has acknowledged that Abramoff attended two Hanukkah receptions and met on several occasions with White House staff members.

Bush has refused to release the photos, saying the Democrats would use them for “pure political purposes.”

Asked about Abramoff on the Sunday talk shows, the Republican lawmakers said the White House should release all records of its contacts with the now-disgraced lobbyist.

“I’m one who believes that more is better ... when it comes to disclosure and transparency, so I’d be a big advocate for making records that are out there available,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota told “Fox News Sunday.”

The photos should not be released, he said, “but I do think it’s important that everybody understand what this guy’s level of involvement was.”

Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, appearing on the same program, agreed on the need for the White House to release its records related to Abramoff.

“Absolutely. 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.”

Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said it was “silly” to think that a lobbyist and his campaign contributions would influence the president. But full disclosure is the best policy, he said.

“My personal opinion on these things is to just get it out. If you’ve got pictures, get the pictures out,” Hagel said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Disclosure is the real issue. Whether it’s campaign finance issues, whether it’s ethics issues, whether it’s lobbying issues, disclosure is the best and most effective way to deal with all of these things.”

White House counselor Dan Bartlett told CNN’s “Late Edition” that Bush had no plans to release the records or the photos to the public, but that he would release them to prosecutors if requested.

“If there is information that people bring forward that is relevant to the investigation, the first people that are going to ask for that information is going to be the prosecutor. And they haven’t done that because they are not relevant,” Bartlett said.

The investigation into Abramoff’s dealings is being led by the Justice Department’s criminal division. Its legal team includes career prosecutors, and it is led by Bush appointees, including Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales.

On the day of Abramoff’s guilty plea, Assistant Atty. Gen. Alice Fisher, the Bush appointee who heads the criminal division, described the corruption scheme as “very extensive.”

“We’re going to follow this wherever it goes,” she said.

Last week, several Democrats proposed that Bush appoint a special prosecutor so the probe would have some independence from the White House.

Bartlett rejected that idea Sunday.

“We have outstanding prosecutors, career prosecutors up and down the Justice Department who are working on this investigation,” he said. “They are making good progress on this investigation, and it’s important that the politicians get out of the way and let them do their business.”

Though Republicans received most of the contributions from Abramoff’s clients and all those from Abramoff directly, Democrats also benefited from donations from Abramoff’s clients, many of them Indian tribes.

But Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Sunday that his party should not be tarnished by an association with Abramoff simply because the tribes that donated to Democrats were the lobbyist’s clients.

“Not one Democrat either knew it or acted upon it,” Dean told “Fox News Sunday.” “No Democrat delivered anything, and there’s no accusation and no investigation that any Democrat ever delivered anything to Jack Abramoff.”

Dean agreed it would be a different matter if a Democratic lawmaker was shown to have aided one of Abramoff’s clients after receiving a contribution. If that happened, he said, “that’s a big problem, and those Democrats are in trouble, and they should be in trouble.”