White House stays silent on details of Abramoff visits

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif, left, appear at a news conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to discuss plans to clean up tarnished relations between lawmakers and lobbyists.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 17, 2006 at 8:39 p.m.
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration refused on Tuesday to identify White House aides who have met with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, what they discussed or whom Abramoff was representing.
This came as congressional Democratic leaders told President Bush in a letter that he needs to come clean about Abramoff's contacts at the White House.
Earlier this month, Abramoff, once among Washington's top lobbyists, pleaded guilty to corruption charges and now is cooperating with federal prosecutors in an investigation that has many members of Congress worried.
Bush spokesman Scott McClellan previously said Abramoff attended several Hanukkah receptions at the White House and that Abramoff had been involved in "probably a few staff-level meetings, and that's about it." McClellan, on Jan. 4, said that information resulted from "just doing kind of an initial check" and he would seek further information.
On Tuesday, responding to reporters' questions, McClellan said there would be no further information. "I did check," he said. "There were a few staff-level meetings."
Asked to identify the White House aides who were in the meetings, McClellan said, "I don't get into discussing staff-level meetings."
He also declined to discuss the subject matter of the meetings or whom Abramoff was representing at the meetings.
Pressed to release more information, McClellan said, "there are people that have been charged with wrongdoing. That doesn't in and of itself implicate anyone else."
After Abramoff's guilty plea, McClellan announced that $6,000 that Abramoff, his wife and a client had donated to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign was being given to the American Heart Association. The campaign, however, is keeping the more than $100,000 Abramoff raised for the campaign as a "pioneer."
The Associated Press has reported that Abramoff and associates were involved in nearly 200 contacts with the White House during Bush's first 10 months in office in 2001. Among those involved in the sessions were then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and policy advisers to Vice President Cheney.
Congressional Democrats, counting on corruption was a winning issue for them in this year's elections, plan to unveil an ethics reform plan today.
House Republicans announced their ethics reform plan on Tuesday, including a ban on privately sponsored travel, one of the tools utilized by Abramoff. The GOP also wants a ban on gifts other than inconsequential items.
In a letter Tuesday to Bush, Democratic congressional leaders said, "There is reason to believe that Mr. Abramoff may have had undue and improper influence within your administration."
The Democrats called on Bush "to make public as soon as possible an accounting of Mr. Abramoff's personal contacts with (administration) officials and the official acts that may have been undertaken at his request."
"The American people have a right to know how many times you and senior staff met with Abramoff, and what benefits, if any, Abramoff received from this high degree of access," the Democrats said in the letter.

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