Report Says Rove Aide Accepted Abramoff Gifts
Saturday, September 30, 2006
A top aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove passed along inside White House information to superlobbyist Jack Abramoff at a time when she was also accepting his tickets to nine sports and entertainment events, according to e-mails released yesterday in a bipartisan congressional report.
The e-mails, released by the House Government Reform Committee, show that Susan Ralston also on occasion discussed possible business ventures with Abramoff. Ralston had worked for Abramoff before joining Rove in the White House in 2001.
White House contacts with Abramoff have been the focus of heated interest in Washington since he pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges earlier this year. Although the committee report documents that Abramoff's lobbying team billed their clients for more than 400 contacts with White House officials over three years, it remains unclear what results Abramoff obtained.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) seized on the report yesterday: "A disgraced lobbyist traded perks and campaign contributions for special access to the Bush White House."
But White House press secretary Tony Snow disagreed.
"Jack Abramoff was an exuberant practitioner of sleaze to the point that it's very difficult within the report itself to figure out how many actual contacts there are," Snow said.
The report identified 66 Abramoff contacts with the White House, more than half of them with Ralston. Members of Abramoff's lobbying team at Greenberg Traurig LLP contacted Ralston 69 times.
Ralston has declined to comment on the report.
The report indicates that Abramoff was largely ineffective at placing people in key positions in the administration, apparently failing to win any of the appointments he sought.
When Ralston came through for Abramoff, it often was in relatively minor ways. On Oct. 21, 2001, Ralston e-mailed Abramoff that Rove had read an Abramoff memo about a political endorsement in an obscure race in the Mariana Islands. Ralston reported back to Abramoff that Rove had agreed, writing in an e-mail the next day: "You win :)"
Ralston also informed the Abramoff team about possible political appointees. But there is no evidence that Rove knew or approved of Ralston's actions.
She told Abramoff and his associates that she passed messages and documents to Rove, but the committee report did not confirm that she had done so. On Feb. 21, 2001, Ralston e-mailed Abramoff lobbyist Todd A. Boulanger: "Thanks for breakfast. I showed KR the binder. . . . He gave the binder to Mehlman to read cover to cover and to be prepared." Ken Mehlman was then the White House political director.