'No Further Fallout'

Sunday, October 8, 2006

REMEMBER WHEN President Bush promised to restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office? He doesn't either, it would seem. A report by the House Government Reform Committee, based on three years of e-mails and billing records from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's former law firm, detailed how Mr. Abramoff and his team billed clients for hundreds of contacts with White House officials and dispensed coveted tickets to sporting events and concerts to favored officials, including adviser Karl Rove and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, then the White House political director.

A particular recipient of Mr. Abramoff's favors was his former assistant, Susan B. Ralston. She had gone to the White House to work for Mr. Rove but stayed in close touch with her former boss -- more than half of Mr. Abramoff's 66 contacts with the White House were with her. Mr. Abramoff turned to her as a conduit to Mr. Rove and others, seeking her help in placing allies in government or obtaining other favors, not always successfully. Ms. Ralston, in turn, used Mr. Abramoff as a personal Ticketmaster service, taking free tickets to Bruce Springsteen and Andrea Bocelli concerts, Capitals, Wizards and Orioles games. When Ms. Ralston was looking for four floor seats for a Wizards game -- valued at $1,300 -- Mr. Abramoff emailed back, "For you? Anything!"

You might think a White House worried about honor and integrity would want to look more closely at Mr. Abramoff's dealings. You might think it would be concerned about whether Ms. Ralston violated the rules that prohibit administration officials from taking gifts valued at more than $20, though there is an exception for gifts based on preexisting friendships. You might think it would want to make clear that -- whether technically permitted by the rules or not -- this is unacceptable behavior from government officials.

Not this White House, which has been resolutely incurious about Mr. Abramoff's activities and equally unwilling to provide information about it -- making it impossible to know how many of the reported contacts are classic Abramoff puffery and how many real. "Nothing more will come from the report, no further fallout from the report," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Friday.

Ms. Perino's comments were occasioned by Friday afternoon's announcement that Ms. Ralston was resigning. Not, mind you, because she did anything wrong but because, as Ms. Perino said, "she did not want to be a distraction to the White House at this important time." White House lawyers won't bother to figure out whether Ms. Ralston violated the gift rules, officials said, because she's leaving anyway -- and, according to counselor Dan Bartlett, "without any animosity from us." Indeed, Mr. Bartlett said, "She's been a tireless worker for the president, and we will be sad to see her leave."

A White House even a little concerned about honor and integrity might have managed to summon up a tiny hint of criticism -- not to mention a promise to make sure its employees behave in a way that befits the term public servant. A White House with nothing to hide would release information about Mr. Abramhoff's his meetings and contacts with its officials.

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