Abramoff speaks, and Republicans have some explaining to do

Drudge says that the disgraced lobbyist is dishing to Vanity Fair.

Published March 8, 2006 4:27PM (EST)

Matt Drudge is up with what he says are excerpts from an upcoming Vanity Fair piece on Jack Abramoff. If Drudge has it right, the Republicans who have been trying to put some distance between themselves and the disgraced lobbyist may have some more explaining to do.

Tom DeLay said last month that he and Abramoff were "not close personal friends." According to Drudge, Abramoff tells Vanity Fair that he spent a lot of time with the ousted House majority leader. "We would sit and talk about the Bible. We would sit and talk about opera. We would sit and talk about golf," Abramoff says. "I mean, we talked about philosophy and politics."

Newt Gingrich has said that Republicans must clean house in the wake of the Abramoff scandal, and a spokesman tells Vanity Fair that Gingrich hasn't seen Abramoff for so long that he wouldn't recognize him on the street. According to Drudge, Abramoff says: "I have more pictures of [Newt] than I have of my wife. Here's Newt. Newt. Newt. Newt. More Newt. Newt with Grover [Norquist] this time. But Newt never met me. Ollie North. Newt. Can't be Newt ... he never met me. Oh, Newt! What's he doing there? Must be a Newt look-alike ... Newt again! It's sick! I thought he never met me!"

Montana Sen. Conrad Burns says that Abramoff "never influenced me." But according to Drudge, Abramoff tells Vanity Fair: "Every appropriation we wanted [from Burns' committee], we got. Our staffs were as close as they could be. They practically used [Abramoff's restaurant] Signatures as their cafeteria. I mean, it's a little difficult for him to run from that record."

A spokesman for John McCain says that the Arizona senator "never laid eyes on" Abramoff until he appeared before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. According to Drudge, Abramoff tells Vanity Fair: "As best I can remember, when I met with him, he didn't have his eyes shut. I'm surprised that Senator McCain has joined the chorus of amnesiacs."

George W. Bush has insisted that he didn't know Abramoff well, if at all. Abramoff has said that he has met with Bush almost a dozen times, and Drudge says that he tells Vanity Fair that Bush once joked with him about his weight-lifting routine: "What are you benching, buff guy?"

As bad as the Vanity Fair piece seems to be for some naysayers, it may be only the guilt-by-association start of things. Abramoff is to be sentenced in the fraud case against him later this month; at that time, his lawyer says, he'll be "naming names" and "providing evidence of what's going on out there."

By Tim Grieve

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

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