Never met Abramoff? Never mind

News reports suggest that the new House majority leader may have a hard time moving his party past its lobbying scandal.

Published February 8, 2006 5:35PM (EST)

When the Republicans' new House majority leader appeared on "Meet the Press" Sunday, he insisted that he'd never met Jack Abramoff. "Some of his underlings worked with some low-level employees of my office," Ohio Rep. John Boehner said. "I'm telling you I never met the man."

That wasn't the truth, exactly.

As the Associated Press reports, Boehner's office now concedes that Boehner remembers meeting Abramoff in "a brief, incidental conversation at a widely attended event that he estimates was about five years ago."

That "brief, incidental conversation" isn't the only tie between the disgraced GOP lobbyist and the man who ran as a "reform" candidate to replace Tom DeLay.

As we've noted previously, Boehner's PAC has accepted more than $30,000 from Indian tribes Abramoff represented. And now the AP says that billing records from Abramoff's former lobbying firm link Boehner's office to a veritable who's who of Abramoff-related players. The AP says that Abramoff's staff contacted Boehner's office at least 10 times in early 1996 about issues concerning the government of the Northern Mariana Islands, which was a client of Abramoff's. "Typically," the AP says, "the contact was made by David Safavian," the Abramoff aide who served as the Bush administration's chief procurement officer until he was indicted for his Abramoff-related activities last year. In March 1996, the records show, Safavian went over plans for a junket to one of the islands with Barry Jackson, who was Boehner's chief of staff at the time. It appears that Jackson was supposed to go on the trip but bailed out at the last minute. He has done all right for himself anyway: He's now the chief deputy to White House advisor and friend-of-Jack Karl Rove.

In another story that underscores the tangled web in which lobbyists and members of Congress reside, the Washington Post reports that Boehner rents an apartment on Capitol Hill from John Milne, "a veteran lobbyist whose clients have direct stakes in legislation Boehner has co-written and that he has overseen as chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee." It appears that Boehner pays market-rate rent for the apartment, and both the lobbyist and the congressman seem very happy with their landlord-tenant relationship. Milne's wife, Debra Anderson, told the Post that she and her husband have been friends with the Boehners for years. The congressman is an "excellent tenant," she said, and he pays his rent on time.

By Tim Grieve

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

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