News and articles relating to the scandal surrounding Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Friday, January 27, 2006

Majority Believe White House Should Release Abramoff Records

By Richard Morin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 27, 2006; 7:03 AM

A strong bipartisan majority of the public believes President Bush should release records of meetings between disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and White House staffers despite administration claims that media requests for details about those contacts amount to a "fishing expedition," according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey found that three in four--76 percent--of all Americans said Bush should disclose contacts between aides and Abramoff while 18 percent disagreed. Two in three Republicans joined with eight in 10 Democrats and political independents in favoring disclosure, according to the poll.

At a Thursday press conference, the president declined to discuss those meetings but said federal investigators are "welcome" to look into them if they suspect wrongdoing. Last week Bush press secretary Scott McClellan, pressured by reporters to explain Abramoff's contacts with the Bush administration, said, "We're not going to engage in a fishing expedition."

Earlier this month Abramoff pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy and fraud charges. A plea agreement said Abramoff bribed public officials, including a member of Congress.

Questions about White House contact with Abramoff came as special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald continues an unrelated investigation to determine who leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative to reporters. That investigation already has produced charges against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby , former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby is accused of lying to FBI agents and a federal grand jury.

The twin scandals have done little to help the battered public image of the Bush White House and Congress. The new poll found that 56 percent of the public disapproved of the way that Bush is handling ethics in government, up seven percentage points in the past five weeks. An equally large majority say the type of wrongdoing admitted by Abramoff is "widespread" in Washington.

Abramoff has agreed to cooperate with federal investigators whose targets reportedly include several members of Congress as well as ranking officials within the executive branch.

In Congress, both parties have scrambled to put together lobbying reform packages as the November midterm elections loom on the horizon.

But Americans are divided over whether Congress is serous about passing reform legislation. About half--51 percent--of those surveyed said they doubted Congress would pass tough new lobbying restrictions in the coming year while 46 percent said it was likely.

A total of 1,002 randomly selected adults were interviewed nationally Jan. 23-26 for this telephone survey. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Democrats Want Shake-Up in Abramoff Probe - Yahoo! News

By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent
1 hour, 25 minutes ago

Two Senate Democrats asked the U.S. attorney general Thursday to appoint a special counsel to take over the investigation into congressional corruption involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The letter came a day after the Justice Department announced the prosecutor heading the investigation would step down from the Abramoff investigation.

Noel Hillman, chief of the department's public integrity section, was nominated by President Bush for a judgeship on the U.S. District Court in New Jersey.

Hillman will step down as chief of the public integrity unit next week, but remain in the Justice Department's criminal division until he is confirmed, a department official said.

In a letter to the attorney general, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Ken Salazar argued an independent prosecutor "would ensure that the investigation and prosecution will proceed without fear or favor and provide the public with full confidence that no one in this country is above the law."

The two Democrats said that so far, the public integrity section of the Justice Department, which is in charge of the probe, has "pursued this case appropriately."

Rep. George Miller (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif. issued a statement supporting the request made by Schumer and Salazar. In addition to the points they raised, Miller noted that on Wednesday Bush nominated Hillman to a federal judgeship.

"It looks like the White House has reached in and tampered with an ongoing investigation," Miller said.

The White House was poised to nominate Hillman last summer after a deal on Bush's judicial nominations paved the way for New Jersey's Democratic senators to weigh in on Hillman. White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said the president makes all his nominations in a timely manner and was ready to move forward.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said, "There is no legal or ethical reason why the attorney general would need to recuse himself from this investigation as it continues to move forward successfully with a career prosecution team."

Abramoff pleaded guilty this year to several felony charges, some involving his dealings with members of Congress and their aides. His one-time business partner, former congressional aide Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty last year in the same investigation.

Officials have said numerous former congressional aides remain under scrutiny, as does Rep. Bob Ney (news, bio, voting record), R-Ohio, who recently stepped down provisionally as a committee chairman in the House of Representatives.

Politicians of both parties moved quickly to shed campaign donations from Abramoff or his former clients in the aftermath of the lobbyists' admissions of guilt.

The scandal also has thrust congressional reform toward the top of the legislative and political agenda in the opening days of an election-year Congress. All 435 seats in the House and one-third of the 100 Senate seats are up for election in November.

Schumer and Salazar sent their letter several days after Democrats pressed the White House for information on contacts between Abramoff and President Bush or other top officials. So far, the White House has refused to release photographs of the president and the lobbyist together.

Asked about it at a news conference Thursday, Bush said, "There's thousands of people that come through and get their pictures taken.

"I'm also mindful that we live in a world in which those pictures will be used for pure political purposes," he said, "and they're not relevant to the investigation."

In their letter, Schumer and Salazar cited news reports that in addition to the presidential photographs, Abramoff organized at least one meeting with White House aides for his clients.

"These meetings with the president and the White House staff occurred while you were serving as White House counsel," they wrote Gonzales, who became attorney general a year ago. "Given the possible ties between Mr. Abramoff and senior government officials, we believe the appointment of a special counsel is not only justified, but necessary."

Schumer and Salazar wrote that the "highly political context" of the allegations may "lead some to surmise that political influence may compromise the investigation."

The Seattle Times: Nation & World: President tries to distance himself, staff from Abramoff

By James Gerstenzang and Peter Wallsten
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Thursday refused to release photographs showing him with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and declined to disclose information about meetings between Abramoff and White House staff.

Recent news reports have described five photographs depicting the president with Abramoff, a longtime Republican fundraiser, apparently shot during White House functions.

Bush's spokesman has acknowledged "a few staff-level meetings" between Abramoff and White House aides took place but has declined to say who met with the lobbyist or what was discussed.

"I had my picture taken with him, evidently," Bush said Thursday, referring to Abramoff. "I've had my picture taken with a lot of people. Having my picture taken with someone doesn't mean that I'm a friend with them or know them very well.

"I've had my picture taken with you," Bush told a reporter who pursued the issue, drawing chuckles.

The president's comments, during an impromptu White House news conference, illustrated the challenges he faces heading into Tuesday's State of the Union address, a speech aides hope will lift Bush above scandals and weakened approval ratings.

He defended the White House decision to bar some top aides from testifying before congressional committees investigating the government response to Hurricane Katrina.

"If people give me advice and they're forced to disclose that advice, it means the next time an issue comes up, I might not be able to get unvarnished advice from my advisers," Bush said.

He also defended his decision to authorize the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor electronic communications, without court approval, between Americans and suspected al-Qaida members overseas, a decision critics assert was a violation of federal law.

Bush said at least 10 times that he believed he acted lawfully. He took issue with a question that suggested he had circumvented the law.

"Wait a minute," Bush said. "It's like saying, you know, you're breaking the law.

"I'm not. I am upholding my duty, and at the same time doing so under the law and with the Constitution behind me."

When told that his stand on the surveillance policy "seems to sound like something President Nixon once said, which was: 'When the president does it, then that means that it's not illegal,' in the areas involving national security," whispered "oohs" could be heard in the briefing room.

Bush responded: "Most presidents believe that during a time of war that we can use our authorities under the Constitution to make decisions necessary to protect us."

On Thursday, Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Ken Salazar, D-Colo., called for the appointment of a special counsel to take over investigation of Abramoff and his links to lawmakers and their staffs. Abramoff has reached a plea agreement with prosecutors and has said he will cooperate with the investigation.

Time magazine said this week that its reporters had seen five Bush-Abramoff photos and a sixth showing Bush with several of Abramoff's children and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

None of the photos has been circulated publicly.

Bush said the photos were not relevant to the federal investigation that has gripped Capitol Hill since Abramoff pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion. "I, frankly, don't even remember having my picture taken with the guy," Bush said. "I don't know him."

Prosecutor Will Step Down From Lobbyist Case - New York Times

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 — The investigation of Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist, took a surprising new turn on Thursday when the Justice Department said the chief prosecutor in the inquiry would step down next week because he had been nominated to a federal judgeship by President Bush.

The prosecutor, Noel L. Hillman, is chief of the department's public integrity division, and the move ends his involvement in an inquiry that has reached into the administration as well as the top ranks of the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.

The administration said that the appointment was routine and that it would not affect the investigation, but Democrats swiftly questioned the timing of the move and called for a special prosecutor.

The announcement came as Mr. Bush faced a barrage of questions about why he would not make public "grip-and-grin" photographs of him with Mr. Abramoff. The photographs apparently show Mr. Bush and Mr. Abramoff smiling at White House Hanukkah parties and Republican fund-raising receptions.

Mr. Bush's position, which he offered at a news conference on Thursday morning that was peppered with questions about Mr. Abramoff, was that the photographs were so common as to be almost meaningless and that it was part of his job "to shake hands with people and smile." He said he could not remember posing for the pictures, or, for that matter, even meeting Mr. Abramoff.

"I had my picture taken with him, evidently," Mr. Bush said. "I've had my picture taken with a lot of people. Having my picture taken with someone doesn't mean that I'm a friend with them or know them very well."

He said, "I'm also mindful that we live in a world in which those pictures will be used for pure political purposes, and they're not relevant to the investigation."

The White House, which announced Mr. Bush's selection of Mr. Hillman for the court in a routine e-mail message on Wednesday that included 15 other nominations to judgeships and federal jobs, dismissed the calls for a special prosecutor.

"It's nothing but pure politics," said Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary. "The Justice Department is holding Mr. Abramoff to account, and the career Justice prosecutors are continuing to fully investigate the matter."

A special prosecutor would not be especially welcome at the White House. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the C.I.A. leak case, is more than two years into an investigation that has resulted in the indictment of a top vice-presidential aide, I. Lewis Libby Jr., and has left Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, under investigation.

Mr. Hillman's departure from the Justice Department creates a vacancy at the top of the Abramoff inquiry only three weeks after Mr. Abramoff, once one of the city's most powerful Republican lobbyists and a major fund-raiser for Mr. Bush, announced his guilty plea and agreed to testify against others, possibly including members of Congress.

A former senior White House budget official, David H. Safavian, has been indicted in the case on charges of lying about his contacts with Mr. Abramoff, a former lobbying partner. The Justice Department's plea agreement with Mr. Abramoff makes clear that prosecutors are investigating several members of Congress and other public officials who are suspected of having accepted gifts from the lobbyist in exchange for official acts.

Colleagues at the Justice Department say Mr. Hillman has been involved in day-to-day management of the Abramoff investigation since it began almost two year ago. The inquiry, which initially focused on accusations that Mr. Abramoff defrauded Indian tribes out of tens of millions of dollars in lobbying fees, is being described within the department as the most important federal corruption investigation in a generation.

Mr. Hillman's nomination for a judgeship was among the factors cited Thursday by four Democratic lawmakers, two senators and two representatives, in calling on Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to name a special prosecutor to oversee the corruption investigation.

The timing of Mr. Hillman's nomination "jaundices this whole process," Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said in an interview. "They have to appoint a special counsel. I think there will be broad support for one."

Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, called the timing "startling" and said, "You have one of the chief prosecutors removed from a case that has tentacles throughout the Republican leadership of Congress, throughout the various agencies and into the White House."

White House officials have said that Mr. Abramoff had no improper dealings with the White House. They have said he attended "staff level" meetings at the White House, but have declined to say with whom. One of his chief connections to the White House was through Susan Ralston, an assistant who worked for him before she worked for Mr. Rove. Ms. Ralston continues to work for Mr. Rove as a top aide.

A Justice Department spokesman, Bryan Sierra, said he had no comment on the Democratic request for a special prosecutor because the department had not received their letter making the request.

Mr. Sierra said in an interview that there was nothing unusual about the timing of Mr. Hillman's nomination and that it would not affect the Abramoff inquiry. "The team that Noel put together is going to remain together," he said. "The investigation should not be impacted." He said Mr. Hillman would be temporarily succeeded as head of the public integrity office by Andrew Lourie, a career prosecutor in Florida.

The White House had been poised to nominate Mr. Hillman for the bench last year. Mr. Sierra said he did not know why the nomination had been delayed until this week, but he said he believed it had nothing to do with the Abramoff investigation.

In a letter sent to the attorney general on Thursday asking for an independent counsel, Senator Schumer and Senator Ken Salazar, Democrat of Colorado, praised Mr. Hillman's office for the investigation that led to the guilty plea by Mr. Abramoff and his former lobbying partner, Michael Scanlon, a former press secretary to Representative Tom DeLay.

"We applaud its pursuit of Mr. Abramoff and his colleagues," they said. "We have no doubt that if the investigation is left to the career prosecutors in that section, the case would reach its appropriate conclusion. Unfortunately, the highly political context of the allegations and charges may lead some to surmise that political influence may compromise the investigation."


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