Papers Show Bush Allies' Inside Access

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By JOHN SOLOMON and SHARON THEIMER
The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 20, 2006; 11:20 PM

WASHINGTON -- Republican activists Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed landed more than 100 meetings inside the Bush White House, according to documents released Wednesday that provide the first official accounting of the access and influence the two presidential allies have enjoyed.

The White House released the Secret Service visit records to settle a lawsuit by the Democratic Party and an ethics watchdog group seeking visitors logs for the two GOP strategists and others who emerged as figures in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Earlier this month, the White House suggested to the judge in that lawsuit that such records need not be disclosed because the information was privileged and might reveal how Bush and his staff get private advice, according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The congressional and criminal investigations of Abramoff produced evidence suggesting the lobbyists won access to the Bush White House through conservative activists such as Norquist and Reed. The long-sought visitor logs answer the question of how often those two men got inside the White House during the time they were simultaneously supporting the president and assisting Abramoff.

White House officials said Norquist, who runs the nonprofit Americans for Tax Reform, was cleared for 97 visits to the White House complex between 2001 and 2006, including a half-dozen with the president.

Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition and an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia earlier this year, got 18 meetings, including two events with Bush.

Officials said they believe all appointments with Bush involved larger group settings, such as Christmas parties or policy briefings for GOP supporters.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, however, it was possible some of Norquist's meetings might have been directly with Karl Rove, the president's longtime confidant and political strategist.

"He is one of a number of individuals who worked to advance fiscal responsibility, which is one of the key aspects of the president's agenda," Perino said.

Both Reed and Norquist became involved with Abramoff, the once high-power GOP lobbyist who has pleaded guilty to fraud and is now cooperating with prosecutors in an influence peddling investigation that has rocked Capitol Hill.

Norquist's group advocates lower taxes and less government and he built it into a major force in the Republican Party. Along the way he became friends with Abramoff and Rove.

E-mails obtained this summer by AP show Norquist facilitated several administration contacts for Abramoff's clients while the lobbyist simultaneously solicited those clients for large donations to Norquist's group. Americans for Tax Reform acknowledged Norquist helped Abramoff but said he did nothing improper.


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© 2006 The Associated Press

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