Hey look, it's me! With the president!

Is Jack Abramoff showing off his White House photo collection? And if so, why?

Published January 25, 2006 1:45PM (EST)

The fact that there are photos of George W. Bush posing with Jack Abramoff proves nothing about criminal conduct inside the White House and shouldn't even be much of an issue. And it wouldn't be if a) the Republicans in Washington weren't trying so hard to pretend that Abramoff wasn't one of their own and b) Scott McClellan weren't refusing to give up details about contacts between the White House and the lobbyist.

But they are, and he is, so here we are. Both the Washingtonian and Time say they've seen five photographs of Bush and Abramoff together. The photos aren't coming from the White House -- at least not officially -- so Think Progress got to thinking about who else might have access to the snaps and some incentive for sharing them: Abramoff himself.

It was just a theory, but now it seems that Newsweek's Michael Isikoff is confirming it. As Think Progress notes, Isikoff said during a "Hardball" appearance Tuesday that the photos that ended up in the hands of the Washingtonian started in Abramoff's. "I dont know anything about Time sources, but I do know that he showed them to Washingtonian magazine, which suggests he may be playing a little bit of a game here," Isikoff said. "He has, of course, pled guilty already to the Justice Department. But it does raise a question in my mind at least as to whether Abramoff is maybe sort of sending some sort of signal out here: 'Hey, Ive got this stuff.' Maybe he wants something from somebody at the White House, or he wants someone at the White House not to do something, and [is] just sort of subtly playing with people here."

What Abramoff might want -- short of a pardon, which doesn't seem all that likely, at least not anytime soon -- is about as much of a mystery as why he wore dueling hats to his back-to-back plea hearings. Bush's desires are a little easier to understand. In a nice bit of understatement, Isikoff says that "as a general rule, if youre the president ... you dont like pictures out there of you with convicted felons." Especially, we suppose, if you're trying to give people the impression that you didn't really know that felon in the first place.

By Tim Grieve

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

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