Does anyone remember Jack Abramoff?

Scott McClellan says the lobbyist had "just a few" staff-level meetings at the White House. Did he meet with the president, too?

Published January 18, 2006 7:52PM (EST)

Not so long ago, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum ran weekly meetings aimed at spreading the power of the GOP by placing loyal Republicans in the top lobbying jobs on K Street. Santorum used to defend the meetings -- "The K Street project is purely to make sure we have qualified applicants for positions that are in town," he once told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette -- but now he seems to have a hard time remembering them. "I don't know what you mean by Senate liaison to the quote, 'K Street Project,'" Santorum told reporters Tuesday. "I'm not aware of any Senate liaison job that I do for the K Street Project."

Maybe he's not the only one with a memory problem.

As we noted earlier today, White House press secretary Scott McClellan promised reporters a couple of weeks ago that he'd put together a "very thorough report" on Jack Abramoff's contacts with the White House. When asked about that report Tuesday, McClellan said that he wouldn't be providing any detailed information after all: Abramoff had attended two White House Chanukah parties and "just a few staff-level meetings," McClellan said, and if reporters wanted to know more they'd have to ask more specific questions first.

So, OK, here's one. Did the president of the United States meet with Jack Abramoff on May 9, 2001? And if so, is that one of those "staff-level" meetings that you just mentioned?

Taegan Goddard's Political Wire calls our attention to a June 2005 piece in the Texas Observer in which Lou Dubose says that Abramoff and some of his Indian clients met with Bush in the Old Executive Office Building on May 9, 2001. It wasn't a one-on-one meeting, Dubose says, but it sure was an expensive one: Dubose says Abramoff charged his clients $25,000 for about 15 minutes of face time with the president.

The story of the meeting isn't exactly airtight. Dubose says that one of the tribal leaders involved previously denied participating in a meeting with Bush, and his evidence that the meeting actually happened seems to be secondhand. But with memories growing suddenly hazy and the White House refusing to produce logs that would show Abramoff's comings and goings, stories like this one may be as close as we'll get to the truth.

By Tim Grieve

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

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