The White House on Abramoff: Whatever it is, we're done with it

Rove's aide resigns, again raising questions about the lobbyist's ties to the Bush administration. The White House says the case is closed.

Published October 9, 2006 2:04PM (EDT)

It's good to be king. It's not so bad to be Karl Rove, either.

In the wake of a House committee report that documented 485 contacts between White House officials and Jack Abramoff's lobbying team, the Bush administration quietly announced late Friday that Rove aide Susan Ralston had resigned. The tip of an iceberg? Well, it's a little late in the day to be talking about the "tip" of anything, at least where Abramoff and Washington Republicans are concerned. Federal prosecutors have already extracted admissions of guilt from Abramoff, his business partner, a small army of House aides and GOP Rep. Bob Ney. But if anyone thought that the House committee report or the resignation of Ralston was going to signal any kind of serious soul-searching -- let alone any evidence hunting -- inside the White House, the public statements that accompanied Ralston's departure should put that sort of nonsense to rest.

"We support her decision and consider the matter closed," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said when she announced Ralston's resignation. Just in case anybody missed the point, Perino added that "nothing more" would come out of the House report and that there would "no further fallout" from it.

Well, OK then.

We wish we could do that -- just declare, whenever it suits our purposes, that nothing will come of the things we've done. We were going 80 in a 40 mph zone? Sorry, officer, but "we consider the matter closed." We backed into your car in the parking lot? Too bad about those dents, but there will be "no further fallout."

The editorialists are up in arms about Perino's Obi-Wan Kenobi act. As both the New York Times and the Washington Post have noted, Ralston's departure leaves behind a lot of questions about what she did, whether she violated the federal gift ban or other laws and whether anyone else in the administration may have crossed legal lines while granting Abramoff and his people unusual access to the White House.

Does that mean that the White House will have to start answering those questions now? Don't hold your breath. On a slow news day, Tony Snow would at least face a slew of questions about Abramoff, even if he didn't actually answer any of them. But the good news for the White House is that there's so much bad news now that the Abramoff story will probably strike most White House reporters as an old and not so sexy story. With North Korea conducting a nuclear test, with Iraq going to hell, with developments in the Mark Foley case continuing to unfold, we're not particularly surprised that the White House thinks it will be able to skirt further questions on Abramoff. We're far more surprised that it felt the need to do anything about the case at all.

By Tim Grieve

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

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