By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Rep. Henry A. Waxman, chairman of the House oversight committee, called on the White House yesterday to turn over all documents in its files that relate to lobbying efforts by Jack Abramoff.
Waxman (D-Calif.) said in a letter to White House counsel Fred F. Fielding that unless the White House plans to assert executive privilege, it should produce 600 pages it has withheld from the Oversight and Government Reform Committee's continuing investigation of the disgraced lobbyist's contacts with executive branch officials. Waxman asked for the documents by Nov. 6.
Waxman left room for negotiation, saying the White House could make the documents available to committee staff so they could assess whether they are needed for the panel's investigation. Fielding seized the opening in a letter back to Waxman, saying he was "pleased that such a concept is proposed in your letter" and pledging to "seek to accommodate our respective interests in the documents we have withheld."
The White House has produced 3,700 documents to the panel in recent months, withholding those it told the committee contain "internal deliberations among White House employees, or that otherwise implicate Executive Branch prerogatives."
"The White House has said that Jack Abramoff had very little contact with the President's staff and that it wanted all the relevant facts to be public. The 600 pages of documents it is withholding are directly relevant and should be produced," Waxman's office said in a statement. "If the White House cooperates we will be able to conclude our work."
Waxman told Fielding in his letter yesterday that his panel has learned that "some senior White House officials had regular contact with Mr. Abramoff," among them former White House political affairs director Matt Schlapp, who has been interviewed by the committee.
Schlapp "estimated that he had monthly contact with Jack Abramoff on subjects that often involved official government business," according to the congressman's letter. Abramoff's group, Schlapp said, was "viewed by many as a very respected lobbying team."
Waxman's committee issued a report last year, based on documents from Abramoff's law firm, that found the lobbyist and his colleagues had billed their clients for more than 400 contacts with White House officials, including the cost of nearly $24,000 in meals and sports tickets.
The Justice Department is continuing a wide-ranging corruption investigation into Abramoff's dealings with Congress and the executive branch. Abramoff, members of his lobbying team, congressional aides, two high-ranking Bush administration officials and former Republican congressman Bob Ney have already been convicted in the probe.
The Abramoff investigation is one of dozens that Waxman's committee has launched into Bush administration practices.
White House officials have said that Abramoff overstated his access with the administration. Some aides accepted favors from the lobbyist, among them Susan Ralston, a former Abramoff assistant who went to work for then-White House political adviser Karl Rove. Ralston resigned after Waxman's report last year.