We Don't Know Jack

Monday, May 8, 2006

IT'S TAKEN a Freedom of Information Act request, a lawsuit and a court order, but the White House will soon release Secret Service records detailing lobbyist Jack Abramoff's visits there. This is long overdue, and the delay has been due to -- there's no other word for it -- stonewalling by the Bush administration. The administration says the lobbyist attended a Hanukkah party or two and "a few staff-level meetings." With whom? About what? We don't know, and it's not clear the Secret Service records will reveal that. But certainly, at this point, the White House does know, and leaving these questions unanswered, as it has tried to do, remains unacceptable.

To recap: Mr. Abramoff was willing to bribe members of Congress and their staffs to get what he, or his clients, wanted. He had extensive dealings with executive branch departments and officials -- one of whom, former White House procurement chief David H. Safavian, has been charged by federal prosecutors with lying to investigators about his involvement with Mr. Abramoff. A recently released stack of e-mails shows Mr. Safavian messaging Mr. Abramoff from the lobbyist's restaurant ("I love those tempura tuna rolls!") that "my folks are set to brief your team" on minority contracting opportunities. Mr. Abramoff raised at least $100,000 for President Bush's reelection campaign; he dropped Karl Rove's name as handily as he dispensed tickets to his stadium skyboxes.

The White House, in the person of press secretary Scott McClellan, previously said it wouldn't deign to provide details of Mr. Abramoff's adventures in the White House. "If you've got some specific issue that you need to bring to my attention, fine," he said in January. "But what we're not going to do is engage in a fishing expedition that has nothing to do with the investigation." Last week Mr. McClellan took the stance of a befuddled bystander. "I don't know exactly what they'll be providing," he said of the Secret Service, "but they only have certain records and so I just wouldn't view it as a complete historical record." Gee, who is it that might be able to assemble that record?

So here's our challenge to -- and advice for -- the incoming press secretary, Tony Snow: Rather than a steady drip, drip, drip of Abramoff news, get it all out, quickly and with enough details to make clear what, exactly, transpired between the corrupt lobbyist and the president's aides.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company