Back when the Jack Abramoff scandal was exploding across Washington in 2005 and 2006, the White House went to great lengths to publicly distance itself from the Republican uberlobbyist — even though anyone who knew anything about Republican politics knew Abramoff was hard-wired into the very fabric of the modern GOP.
Following Abramoff’s guilty plea in January 2006, President Bush said, “I don’t know him.” A White House spokesperson stated that Abramoff had only attended “a couple of holiday receptions . . . then a few staff-level meetings on top of that.” And through a spokesperson, Rove said that he “remembers they had met at a political event in the 1990s. … Since then, he would describe him as a casual acquaintance.” Later, we learned that Rove and Abramoff met on D.C. street corners, Jack in his limo, to avoid detection in White House phone and visitor logs.
But the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report issued today detailing the ties between Abramoff and the Bush White House specifically stated that the White House’s own investigation into Abramoff’s contacts there had been cursory at best.
This evidence suggests that the White House failed to conduct even the most basic internal investigation of the White House relationship with Mr. Abramoff before making public statements characterizing the connection between Mr. Abramoff and the White House.
In reality, the Committee uncovered extensive contacts between Abramoff team and the White House, including access to Rove and direct influence on White House policy, from unseating Department of Interior official Alan Stayman to affecting nominating processes:
One action that White House officials took at the request of Mr. Abramoff was to intervene to force the removal of a State Department official, Alan Stayman. In a previous position at the Office of Insular Affairs in the Department of the Interior, Mr. Stayman had advocated positions opposed by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, then a client of Mr. Abramoff. Mr. Stayman was appointed to his position at the Department of State during the Clinton Administration.
In a recent Committee deposition, Monica Kladakis, then-Deputy Associate Director in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel (OPP), confirmed that OPP became involved in Mr. Stayman’s removal after White House officials were contacted by Mr. Abramoff’s team.
The White House led the committee in 2006 to believe that the extent of the Abramoff connections existed only between Abramoff and Rove’s mutual secretary, Susan Ralston. Ralston was painted to be the whole of Abramoff’s connection to the White House and her resignation was the culmination of a 4-day investigation by the White House, described by the deputy press secretary as a “thorough” review of the matter.
But in the Committee’s examination of Ralston’s relevant correspondence, specific electronic conversations shed light on Ralston’s role as a conduit between Abramoff and Rove, rather than a stopping point.
One example of the Abramoff team’s access to the White House regarding the nomination process is a February 20, 2001, e-mail from Susan Ralston to Matt Schlapp to let him know that Jack Abramoff had called Karl Rove a few days earlier to discuss appointments at OIA.
According to this e-mail, Mr. Abramoff had heard that Esther Kia’aina was going to be
considered for a position and “wanted to let Karl know that he didn’t think this was a good idea.”
Ms. Ralston continued, “Karl asked that you return his call.” Ms. Kia’aina was not appointed to a position at OIA.
Beyond nominations and appointments, Abramoff, through Rove, also played a hand in creating White House policy:
On a number of occasions, White House officials used information Mr. Abramoff provided in policy deliberations. For example, in September 2002, when Matt Schlapp, then-Deputy White House Political Director, asked Ms. Ralston if Karl Rove wanted “Fred Radewagon to get strong consideration” for appointment to the position of Director of OIA. Ms. Ralston replied minutes later with the note, “Definitely not Radewagon. Here’s the intel I got on him.”
The rest of her e-mail quotes directly, without attribution, from an e-mail Jack Abramoff had sent her the previous month. In this e-mail, Ms. Ralston passed on information from Mr. Abramoff to support her assertion that Mr. Rove would not support Mr. Radewagon. Mr. Radewagon did not get the appointment.