The Jack Abramoff scandal has just moved one step closer to the Oval Office. The New York Times reports this morning that the indicted lobbyist asked the West African nation of Gabon for $9 million in 2003 in exchange for his help in setting up a meeting between the president of that nation and the president of the United States.
The Times says there's no evidence in the public record as to whether Gabon paid Abramoff the money or as to whether he did any work on the nation's behalf. But there is this: On May 26, 2004, the president of Gabon met with George W. Bush at the White House.
Administration officials tell the Times that Bush's meeting with President Omar Bongo was entirely routine and had been arranged through "normal staffing channels."
That may be right, but that's not how Abramoff planned for the meeting to happen. In a draft agreement in August 2003, Abramoff asked Gabon to wire $9 million to a Maryland company he apparently controlled -- and not to the Washington lobbying firm for which he was working. In exchange for the money, Abramoff promised to provide a "public relations effort related to promoting Gabon and securing a visit for President Bongo with the president of the United States."
Abramoff said he could begin work for Gabon almost immediately -- right after a then-upcoming golf trip to Scotland "with the congressmen and senators I take there each year."