Logs Show 2 Abramoff Trips to White House
Wednesday, May 10, 2006; 10:33 PM
U.S. Secret Service logs made public yesterday show only two visits by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to the White House -- including what administration sources said was a 2001 meeting with presidential adviser Karl Rove seeking to place two allies in agency jobs.
Abramoff, once one of Washington's most powerful Republican lobbyists, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud, and is cooperating in a Justice Department investigation into corruption in Congress and executive branch agencies. His dealings with Bush administration officials have become a matter of intense interest, particularly among Democrats seeking to link the scandal to the White House.
The Secret Service entry-exit logs show Abramoff was at the White House on March 6, 2001, from 4:24 p.m. until 4:50 p.m., and on Jan. 20, 2004, from 10:42 a.m. until about 11:30 a.m. The latter visit came on the day of President Bush's State of the Union address.
The White House said last week that the Secret Service's logs might not reveal all of Abramoff's visits. "They only have certain records, and so I just wouldn't view it as a complete historical record," spokesman Scott McClellan said.
An administration source who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation said that at the March 2001 meeting, Abramoff asked to have two people placed at the Interior Department, but that Rove declined to get involved and referred him to the White House personnel operation.
Abramoff's 2004 meeting was with an Office of Management and Budget official who had been blocking his efforts to secure use of the Old Post Office Building for a development project. The official, Steve McMillan, continued to refuse to accommodate him in the meeting, the source said.
A procurement official who worked at OMB, David H. Safavian, has been indicted on charges of lying about his dealings with Abramoff, including the lobbyist's efforts to gain access to the Old Post Office.
At that time of his visit with Rove, according to former associates and e-mails released in the course of a Senate investigation, Abramoff was attempting to leverage his role as a major Bush fundraiser to place a close ally, Mark Zachares, into the position of head of the Interior Department's Office of Insular Affairs.
Another source, who is close to Rove, said he recalled that Abramoff pushed Zachares's name in the early days of the administration but that Rove did not take action.
Abramoff and Zachares had been allies when Zachares served as labor secretary for the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, a U.S. territory overseen by Insular Affairs. The lobbyist helped the island territory, a client of his, fight off U.S. efforts to impose minimum-wage laws on its textile plants.
Zachares received $10,000 from Abramoff's charity, the Capital Athletic Foundation, in two payments -- one before and one just after he left the Marianas job -- according to a ledger for the group released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee last year. Abramoff has since admitted he used the Maryland charity to launder lobbying money.
Zachares did not get the Interior position, but in 2002 he landed a job with a congressman important to Abramoff -- Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who served on the House Resources Committee, which oversees Indian and insular affairs. Zachares joined Abramoff on his annual Scotland golf trip the next year. Zachares has not returned numerous calls placed to his home since last fall, when he left Young's office.
Although Abramoff may have made relatively few visits to the White House, colleagues from his lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig, met about two dozen times with officials of the White House's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, which acts as liaison to state, local and tribal governments, former Abramoff associates said.
One of the lobbyists, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the investigation, said Abramoff's colleagues met most often on issues affecting Indian tribes they represented. One intergovernmental affairs meeting concerned the Northern Marianas, the associate said.
The Secret Service provided the records to The Washington Post, which had requested them in January, at the same time they were released under a settlement between the Secret Service and the activist group Judicial Watch. The documents were released under the Freedom of Information Act. The Democratic National Committee this week also sued for release of the logs.
A White House spokesman said previously that Abramoff had attended Hanukkah receptions in 2001 and 2002 and a few staff-level meetings, but details of those visits were not in the logs released yesterday. A spokesman for Abramoff declined to comment on the visits.
Abramoff and four associates have pleaded guilty in the corruption case.
This year, a May 2001 photo surfaced showing Bush shaking hands with an Indian tribal leader, with the lobbyist visible in the background. The logs do not note that visit to the White House complex. After the photo was released, Bush said he did not remember Abramoff well.
The Secret Service offered a reason Abramoff does not show up on logs for the May 2001 event or the holiday parties: Guests for large events often are screened without getting passes, a spokesman said.