Lobbyist Told Reporter of Nearly a Dozen Contacts With Bush

By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 10, 2006

President Bush met lobbyist Jack Abramoff almost a dozen times over the past five years and invited him to Crawford, Tex., in the summer of 2003, according to an e-mail Abramoff wrote to a reporter last month.

Bush "has one of the best memories of any politicians I have ever met," Abramoff wrote to Kim Eisler of Washingtonian magazine. "The guys saw me in almost a dozen settings, and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids."

In an interview last night, Eisler confirmed the contents of the e-mail and said he recently provided portions of it to the liberal Web log ThinkProgress because he thought he was dealing with a fellow reporter. The blog posted the contents of the Abramoff-Eisler communication.

In the e-mail, Abramoff scoffs at Bush's public statements that he does not recall ever meeting the disgraced lobbyist and former top Bush fundraiser. "Of course he can't recall that he has a great memory!" Abramoff wrote. Eisler, an editor for Washingtonian, said in the interview that the lobbyist was the source of his exclusive report last month that at least five photographs of Bush with Abramoff exist. Abramoff showed him the pictures, Eisler said. Abramoff has told others he will not release them publicly.

Bush has said he does not recall ever meeting Abramoff or posing for pictures with the Republican lobbyist at official events or parties. The White House has refused to release the pictures or detail Abramoff's contacts with top White House officials over the past five years.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that "what the president said still stands."

"Mr. Abramoff is someone who was involved in wrongdoing," McClellan said. "He acknowledged that himself. He is being brought to account." Abramoff would not comment last night.

Abramoff pleaded guilty last month in a bribery and corruption scandal that has rocked the Republican Party and threatened the political and professional careers of several lawmakers and aides. No evidence has emerged that Bush or his top White House aides did anything improper to aid Abramoff or his clients, according to people familiar with the investigation. Several lower-level administration officials, however, have been caught up in the scandal, including the top procurement official. The federal probe is expected to zero in on Abramoff's dealing with the Interior Department as it unfolds in the coming months.

In mentioning the invitation to Texas in 2003, Abramoff was apparently referring to a private barbecue Bush hosted for his biggest fundraisers at the Broken Spoke Ranch, down the road from the president's rustic compound near Crawford, on Aug. 9 of that year. About 350 Republicans who had raised at least $50,000 each for Bush were invited.

Abramoff was member of the exclusive group of top Bush fundraisers known as Pioneers, each of whom raised $100,000 or more for Bush. So it would not have been unusual for him to be invited to the barbecue. McClellan said that the photographs are no different from thousands Bush takes each year with visitors, supporters and even reporters and that it would not be unusual for the president to not recall meeting Abramoff.

"Perhaps he has forgotten everything," Abramoff wrote in the e-mail. "Who knows?" Eisler said Abramoff did not grant him permission to release the contents of their e-mail and Abramoff is upset that Eisler did. Eisler, who described himself as sympathetic to Abramoff's situation, was trying to show the ThinkProgress reporter that Abramoff was not exaggerating his relationship with Bush.

Eisler said he has known Abramoff for years and considers the level of vilification "out of proportion."

Eisler's wife, Judy Sarasohn, covers lobbying issues for The Washington Post.

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