For the second time, an investigation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), confirmed extensive communications between disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is now serving a prison sentence, the White House and President George Bush. A September 2006 report by the same committee identified 485 contacts between Abramoff and the Bush Administration over the brief career of the scandal-tainted lobbyist; the new report identifies 70 additional contacts.
Despite vociferous denials by White House officials of knowing Jack Abramoff, including denials by President Bush, even the earliest of records demonstrated that Abramoff did indeed visit White House officials. Convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff made at least two visits to the White House during the Bush administration, according to Secret Service logs released in 2006 under a court order. The logs did not say with whom Abramoff met or what they discussed and "appear to be incomplete," said Tom Fitton, president of the watchdog group Judicial Watch, which requested the records.
The Department of Justice investigation of Abramoff, originally led by DOJ Public Integrity Section chief Noel Hillman, slowly but surely climbed the ladder from an investigation of Abramoff’s wire fraud to Sun Cruz investors in Florida to corruption in Washington, D.C. Most observers thought Hillman would stop the investigation with a conviction against Abramoff. But in January 2006, Washington was stunned by news that Hillman worked out a plea bargain with Abramoff, easing his sentence in exchange for information about bribery and corruption with lawmakers.
As the investigation by the Department of Justice showed signs of uncovering more of the Abramoff-Bush connection, Bush appointed Hillman to a judgeship in federal district court in Baltimore on January 27, 2006.
Time Magazine first reported that White House officials sought to portray the scandal as a Capitol Hill affair with little relevance to them. Peppered for days with questions about Abramoff’s visits to the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan said the now disgraced lobbyist had attended two huge holiday receptions and a few "staff-level meetings" that were not worth describing further. "The President does not know him, nor does the President recall ever meeting him," McClellan said [Time, Jan. 22, 2006].
When Abramoff heard that Bush denied even knowing him, the lobbyist was furious. In e-mails that soon became public, Jack Abramoff said, “The guy saw me in almost a dozen settings, and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids. Perhaps he has forgotten everything, who knows." [In These Times, July 31, 2006].
The latest House report documents that Abramoff had his picture taken with President Bush on at least six different occasions between May 2001 and October 2002. Abramoff had boasted of his White House ties. He was among 550 elite Bush fundraisers in 2004, raising at least $100,000 for Bush’s re-election campaign.
Noel Hillman may have left the Department of Justice, but the Public Integrity Section at DOJ has continued its investigations of corruption on Capitol Hill and, apparently, in the White House. To date, there have been 14 convictions of members of Congress, congressional staff and White House personnel related to the Abramoff scandal.
Abramoff is continuing to cooperate with Justice Department investigators from his prison cell.