By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 29, 2006
Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his colleagues billed their clients for more than 400 contacts with White House officials between 2001 and 2004, according to a report released yesterday by the House Government Reform Committee. The report did not determine how many of those contacts -- referenced in e-mails and Abramoff's often falsified client bills -- actually occurred.
The 93-page report was jointly issued by the committee's chairman, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), and its ranking Democrat, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.). They wrote that their investigation found the current reporting requirements "failed to protect public officials from the ethical undertow generated by Abramoff's claims of access to executive branch deliberations, particularly at the White House."
The report, based on 14,000 e-mails and other documents, conveys many assertions by Abramoff and his team about their efforts to lobby White House officials on matters affecting their Indian tribal clients.
Abramoff's team offered officials tickets to 19 sporting events and concerts, the report states, but "in many instances the documents do not indicate whether the White House officials requested or attended the events." One who did accept tickets, the report said, was Susan Ralston, executive assistant to White House presidential adviser Karl Rove.
The report also cites documents suggesting that former White House political director Ken Mehlman, now chairman of the Republican National Committee, may have helped Abramoff's team get money for a tribal client from the Justice Department. But the committee did not corroborate the claim.
"In many instances, there is little or no corroboration of the events described in the documents," the report's executive summary stated. "While the documents described in this report are authentic, that does not mean that the events actually transpired or that Abramoff and his associates did not exaggerate or misrepresent their actions."
Abramoff, once one of Washington's most powerful Republican lobbyists, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud, along with three former members of his lobbying team. He is cooperating in a federal investigation into corruption in Congress and executive branch agencies.
"The only thing this report demonstrates is what a lot of us already know: Jack Abramoff had a penchant for exaggerating and charging his clients for minor contacts with government officials," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
The committee subpoenaed Abramoff's client billing records and other documents from Greenberg Traurig LLP, his former firm. The report said the Abramoff team billed clients for $23,981 in meals and drinks with White House officials. But the report said it could not determine how many of those meals took place or whether White House officials paid their own way.
One exchange of e-mails cited in the report suggests that former Abramoff lobbying team member Tony C. Rudy succeeded in getting Mehlman to press reluctant Justice Department appointees to release millions of dollars in congressionally earmarked funds for a new jail for the Mississippi Choctaw tribe, an Abramoff client. Rudy wrote Abramoff in November 2001 e-mails that Mehlman said he would "take care of" the funding holdup at Justice after learning from Rudy that the tribe made large donations to the GOP.
Mehlman did not return a call to comment late yesterday. Perino called the suggestions of improper influence by Mehlman "triple hearsay by people who have admitted to having lied and oversold their influence with policymakers."
The committee report said Abramoff and his team were in frequent contact with Ralston, who was once Abramoff's executive assistant and who in February 2001 went to work in the same capacity for Rove.
Ralston passed along information about prospective political appointees and helped Abramoff's team "secure access to the White House and obtain photo opportunities for clients," the report said. It cited 69 e-mails and other contacts between Ralston and the Abramoff lobbyists, and said she was treated to tickets to sporting events on nine occasions.
Contacted by The Washington Post, Ralston said she had no comment. Perino declined to comment on the propriety of Ralston accepting gifts from her former associates, but said, "the president has very high standards, and he expects those standards to be met." Federal law bans government officials from accepting more than nominal gifts from lobbyists.