By Richard Morin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 28, 2006
A strong bipartisan majority of the public believes that President Bush should disclose contacts between disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and White House staff members despite administration assertions 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 Americans said Bush should release lists of all meetings between aides and Abramoff; 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 news conference Thursday, the president declined to discuss those meetings but said federal investigators are "welcome" to look into them. Last week, White House press secretary Scott McClellan, asked 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 J. Fitzgerald continues an unrelated investigation to determine who leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative to reporters. That investigation has produced charges against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former top aide to Vice President Cheney. Libby is accused of lying to FBI agents and a federal grand jury.
The twin scandals have done little to help the public image of the Bush White House and Congress. The poll found that 56 percent of the public disapproved of the way Bush is handling ethics in government, up seven percentage points in the past five weeks. An equally large majority says 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 in the executive branch.
In Congress, both parties have offered plans to change lobbying laws before the November midterm elections.
But Americans are divided over whether Congress is serious about passing reform legislation. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said they doubted Congress would pass lobbying restrictions this year; 46 percent said it was likely.
A total of 1,002 randomly selected adults were interviewed nationally Jan. 23-26 for this telephone survey. The margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus three percentage points.