They really knew Jack

A House committee identifies 485 contacts between Abramoff's lobbying team and White House officials.

Published September 29, 2006 2:53PM (EDT)

When a reporter asked Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman about Jack Abramoff earlier this year, Mehlman said Abramoff was "someone who we don't know a lot about."

It was a good story while it lasted.

As the New York Times reports this morning, a new report from the House Government Reform Committee finds evidence of 485 contacts between Abramoffs lobbying team and White House officials from 2001 to 2004. And as Roll Call reports, the report "single[s] out two of President Bush's top lieutenants, Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, as having been offered expensive meals and exclusive tickets to premier sporting events and concerts by Abramoff and his associates."

RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt says that her boss naturally would have had contacts with Abramoff during Mehlman's tenure at the White House. In his capacity as political director of the White House, it is not unusual that Mr. Mehlman would be in contact with supporters who had interest in administration policy, Schmitt says.

She's right about that, of course: There's no surprise that a White House political director would have substantial contacts with someone interested in White House policy, especially when that person happens to be a Bush-Cheney "Pioneer." What's a little harder to explain is why Mehlman and other Republicans thought they could get away with claiming that they didn't really know Jack at all.

The committee report says Abramoff's team had at least six direct contacts with Mehlman, including an instance in 2001 in which Abramoff offered him a pair of tickets for a U2 concert. But when it comes to White House officials with Abramoff connections, Rove was plainly the biggest of the fish. Rove has dismissed Abramoff as nothing more than a "casual acquaintance," but the committee identified 82 contacts between Abramoff's team and Rove's office. In one e-mail exchange, Abramoff told Rove's secretary that he'd just talked with Rove about hooking him up with tickets to watch the NCAA basketball tournament from his skybox at the MCI Center. Abramoff worked out the details with Rove's secretary -- the same secretary who on at least one occasion informed Abramoff that the White House had come around to his way of thinking on a political issue.

All told, the Times says, Abramoff's team poured about $25,000 into wining and dining White House officials while also providing them numerous tickets to sports and entertainment events. We don't have friends who treat us that well, let alone any strangers who do.

By Tim Grieve

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

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