Jack Abramoff sings, and Scott McClellan dances

The press secretary promises to provide details on the lobbyist's visits to the White House -- then doesn't.

Published January 18, 2006 2:28PM (EST)

The White House is doing its best to distance itself from GOP lobbyist and confessed felon Jack Abramoff: When the president was asked about Abramoff the other day, he said that he's "not all that familiar with a lot that's going on over at Capitol Hill." But you don't need to walk the halls of Congress to catch sight of Abramoff: The Bush "Pioneer" has had plenty of contacts with the Bush administration over the years, and he has been known to spend some time at the White House itself.

How much time and with whom? Those seem like reasonable questions, but they're ones the White House doesn't seem much interested in answering.

On Jan. 4, a reporter asked Scott McClellan whether the White House would release logs showing Abramoff's comings and goings. McClellan said he was "checking into" it. On Jan. 5, another reporter asked McClellan whether he had any "update" on "Abramoff visits to the White House, beyond the three parties that he attended." McClellan said he didn't have the information yet but assured everyone that it was coming. "I'm making sure that I have a very thorough report back to you on that," McClellan said. "And I'll get that to you, hopefully very soon."

McClellan finally got back to reporters on the question Tuesday, but not with the "very thorough report" he had promised. Asked about a Democratic demand that the White House come clean on its Abramoff dealings, McClellan told reporters that he had already done so. "I've already indicated to you a general description of any contacts that were there," he said. Reminded that he had promised a little more, McClellan said that Abramoff had attended two White House Chanukah parties -- not three, as he'd said earlier -- and that Abramoff had participated in a "just a few staff-level meetings in addition to those."

Staff-level meetings? With whom? When? On what subjects? McClellan wouldn't say. "I don't get into discussing staff-level meetings," he said. Why not? "Well, if you bring something to my attention ... I'll be glad to look into it. If you've got something specific, I'll be glad to take a look into it."

OK then, a reporter said, did Abramoff ever meet with Karl Rove?

McClellan's response: "We don't -- we don't ever tend to get into those staff-level meetings."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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