Ken Mehlman, meet Jack Abramoff

The RNC chief says he barely knew the disgraced lobbyist. A new report suggests otherwise.

Published July 6, 2006 5:57PM (EDT)

When a reporter asked Ken Mehlman about Jack Abramoff earlier this year, the RNC chairman pleaded something that sounded a lot like ignorance. "Well, Abramoff is someone who we don't know a lot about," Mehlman told the Huffington Post's A.L. Bardach. "We know what we read in the paper."

Well, so do we. And the papers we've been reading -- the Los Angeles Times the other day, the Forward today -- say that Mehlman may have known Abramoff just a little better than he lets on.

Citing a report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General, the Forward says that Mehlman made sure that Abramoff received information from inside the Bush administration that might be of use to the clients he represented. According to the Forward's account, a former Bush aide named Leonard Rodriguez told the inspector general that Mehlman "recommended or suggested that I reach out to make Jack aware" of developments involving Guam, where Abramoff represented clients.

Rodriguez was the administration's point man on the replacement of the U.S. attorney in Guam. While the inspector general found that Abramoff wasn't responsible for the ouster of Guam's U.S. attorney -- that decision was apparently made before Abramoff started lobbying for it -- it wasn't for lack of trying. The inspector general found that Abramoff pushed hard for canning the top prosecutor at the request of Abramoff client and Guam Gov. Carl Gutierrez, who was at the time under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

In the process of seeking the prosecutor's firing, the Times says, Abramoff was given access to a top-secret FBI report on security concerns in the Pacific, including the possibility of attacks on Guam and the Northern Marianas. The Times says that the leak has been referred to the FBI and to the Interior Department for further investigation. It's not clear who leaked the document to Abramoff or, therefore, whether it came through the pipeline Mehlman apparently opened.

By Tim Grieve

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

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