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

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

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By DAVID HAMMER, Associated Press Writer
Wed Feb 8, 3:18 AM ET

A White House aide who was once chief of staff to House Majority Leader John Boehner helped plan a 1996 trip to the Northern Mariana Islands that was organized by fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff, billing records from Abramoff's firm show.

Barry Jackson, now chief deputy to White House adviser Karl Rove, accepted an invitation to travel to the island of Saipan in April 1996 but later decided not to go, White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said Tuesday.

The government of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands extended the invitations to Jackson and other high-level GOP House leadership staff while Congress was considering legislation to control immigration and labor practices in the remote Pacific island territory.

Abramoff, the central figure in a wide-ranging Justice Department investigation of influence peddling in Congress, lobbied for the Marianas in Washington. The commonwealth's government was accused of permitting egregiously low wages and poor conditions for immigrants working in sweatshops.

According to bills from Abramoff's former lobbying firm to the Marianas government, Abramoff's staff contacted Boehner's office about island issues at least 10 times in the first four months of 1996. Copies of the billing records were obtained by The Associated Press through open-records requests to the territorial government.

Typically, the contact was made by David Safavian, who later became the Bush administration's chief procurement official in the Office of Management and Budget. Safavian recently was indicted on charges of obstructing investigations of his ties to Abramoff. Safavian was the first administration official indicted in the Abramoff scandal.

On March 15, 1996, two weeks before the Saipan trip, Abramoff's lobbying records show Safavian went over trip plans with Jackson and Mimi Simoneaux, then spokeswoman for Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas. On April 1, the day the congressional aides flew to the Marianas, Safavian called Boehner's office "to ascertain the location of B. Jackson." Abramoff's employee called about Jackson again the following day.

Jackson does not recall why he decided not to make the trip, given that it occurred 10 years ago, Healy said.

Since Boehner started campaigning early this year to replace DeLay as the No. 2-ranked House leader, he has denied having any relationship with Abramoff. Boehner has promised reforms to shake the GOP's Abramoff-related troubles.

When asked about the contacts between his office and Abramoff's, including a dinner Boehner attended in May 1996, Boehner told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday: "Some of his (Abramoff's) underlings worked with some low-level employees of my office. I'm telling you I never met the man."

Boehner spokesman Don Seymour said Tuesday that Boehner now does recall meeting Abramoff once, in "a brief, incidental conversation at a widely attended event that he estimates was about five years ago."

In an e-mail to the AP, Seymour also said Boehner did not intentionally downplay Jackson's role on his staff.

Boehner has declined to give up more than $30,000 he got from Abramoff's Indian tribe clients, saying his own work on tribal issues justifies the contributions. He did not receive any money from the tribes until Abramoff represented them. - White House Can't Sweep Aside Abramoff

Indicted Aide Safavian Heads to Court,
And Questions Still Swirl About Griles and Rove
February 8, 2006; Page A4

WASHINGTON -- The scandal surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has shaken up Capitol Hill. But it still poses significant problems for the Bush White House.

A court hearing scheduled later this month may bring fresh attention to the case of former White House aide David Safavian, who is charged with lying in connection with a golf trip Mr. Abramoff arranged. Justice Department officials haven't closed their review of actions by former Interior Department official J. Steven Griles, who disputes claims that he favored Abramoff clients, such as Native American tribes involved in casinos. Calls for the White House to release photos of Mr. Abramoff with the president -- and details of his contacts with presidential aides including Karl Rove -- haven't abated.

"Their refusal to release information is inexcusable," says Tom Fitton, president of conservative legal organization Judicial Watch. As a result, the scandal "is now in the White House."

The president has said his connections to Mr. Abramoff didn't amount to much. "Having my picture taken with someone doesn't mean that I'm a friend with them or know them very well," Mr. Bush said at a recent news conference, calling Mr. Abramoff one of "thousands" of White House visitors with whom he might have been photographed.

Mr. Rove has known Mr. Abramoff for about two decades, according to White House spokesman Scott McClellan. Both are former top officials of the College Republicans, many of whose alumni have gone on to national prominence within the party.

Mr. Abramoff was an early backer of the president, having been listed as a co-chairman pledged to raise $25,000 for Mr. Bush at a 1999 Washington reception. He gave money to the president's recount committee in 2000 and was in the elite tier of fund-raisers for the president's 2004 re-election committee. An Abramoff aide, Susan Ralston, later went to work as Mr. Rove's executive assistant at the White House.

Mr. Abramoff bragged of his "contact" with Mr. Rove when Tyco International Ltd. sought action on tax legislation in 2002, according to Senate testimony by Tim Flanigan, a former Tyco official. "At some point after he joined the engagement team, Mr. Abramoff told me that he intended to contact Mr. Rove directly or indirectly to communicate Tyco's position" on the tax issue, said Mr. Flanigan, who also once worked as Mr. Bush's deputy White House counsel.

A White House spokesman says Mr. Rove doesn't remember talking to Mr. Abramoff about Tyco. A spokesman for Mr. Abramoff declined to comment on whether he lobbied Mr. Rove on the issue. A Tyco spokeswoman says the company doesn't know what Mr. Abramoff did on its behalf. A tax provision Tyco opposed eventually was defeated.

Messrs. Abramoff and Rove shared a connection to Mr. Safavian. Mr. Safavian lobbied alongside Mr. Abramoff before applying for a job with the General Services Administration. On his GSA job application, Mr. Safavian listed Mr. Rove as a reference who could confirm he brought a group of Arab-Americans to a Bush 2000 outreach program in Austin, Texas.

Prosecutors have accused Mr. Safavian of giving Mr. Abramoff inside information from the GSA at a time when the lobbyist was seeking government leases for a client. They have also accused him of misleading ethics officers and investigators by saying Mr. Abramoff wasn't doing business with the GSA when the two men went to Scotland on a 2002 golfing trip.

Barbara Van Gelder, Mr. Safavian's attorney, dismisses the inside information that prosecutors have seized upon as irrelevant. And she says that Mr. Safavian's statement that Mr. Abramoff wasn't doing business with the GSA at the time of the Scotland golfing trip was accurate, because the lobbyist's clients hadn't formally applied for leases or been awarded any. "Seeking" business with government is different, she explains, from having business with government.

She says the charges against Mr. Safavian are an attempt to pressure him to testify against others. "This case is about the government squeezing David Safavian," Ms. Van Gelder says.

What information Mr. Safavian might have to implicate others isn't clear. But Mr. Abramoff has already sent tremors across Capitol Hill by agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors.

Lawmakers have scrambled to offer proposals for overhauling rules governing lawmakers' dealing with lobbyists. "I support your efforts ... to strengthen the ethical standards of Washington," Mr. Bush declared in last week's State of the Union address. The White House has tried to move beyond ethics controversies after the indictment late last year of former vice-presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby in connection with the Central Intelligence Agency leak case. Mr. Rove hasn't yet been cleared in the investigation by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

Mr. Griles is waging a vigorous effort to avoid being charged in the Abramoff investigation. He has offered to meet with prosecutors, though so far they have declined. In emails that surfaced in a Senate inquiry, Mr. Abramoff referred to Mr. Griles as his "man" in the department that oversees Native American issues. Another Interior Department official last year told the Indian Affairs Committee that Mr. Griles showed unusual interest in such issues while serving as the department's chief of staff.

Barry M. Hartman, Mr. Griles's attorney, has written the Senate committee, dismissing the idea that Mr. Griles was close to Mr. Abramoff as a lobbyist's boast to his clients. Mr. Hartman said his own review had uncovered only a handful of telephone calls and email contacts between the two men -- none of which resulted in official Interior Department measures that would have benefited Mr. Abramoff's clients. Mr. Hartman also cited a 2003 email by Mr. Abramoff in which he lamented that Mr. Griles "can't (or at least won't) discuss any of my clients with me."


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