Congressman: White House withholding Abramoff info
October 31, 2007
WASHINGTON ” A House committee chairman on Wednesday demanded that the White House turn over hundreds of pages of material about Jack Abramoff, the latest attempt by Congress to compel the Bush administration to detail its contacts with the disgraced lobbyist.
The White House has produced 3,700 pages of records, but is withholding over 600 others, Rep. Henry Waxman said in a letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding.
The White Houes said it probably will resist the demand.
Administration spokesmen said in 2006 that Abramoff had few visits to the White House, but records from the lobbyist’s old law firm suggest that Abramoff and members of his team had hundreds of contacts with White House officials.
Matt Schlapp, former White House director of political affairs, cooperated with Waxman’s investigation and estimated that he had monthly contact with Abramoff on subjects that often involved official government business, according to the congressman’s letter.
Schlapp also told the committee that Abramoff was regarded as a “point of information” because of his knowledge and his experience and his judgment on issues surrounding politics and policy “and how the town works,” Waxman said in quoting portions of Schlapp’s testimony to the committee.
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Schlapp, who worked for White House political adviser Karl Rove, cooperated voluntarily with the committee and there has been no suggestion that he received tickets or meals from Abramoff or his team. Schlapp was a regional coordinator for President Bush’s 2000 campaign and joined the White House as deputy to Ken Mehlman, replacing him when Mehlman left the White House to manage Bush’s re-election campaign.
Abramoff is serving six years in prison on a criminal case out of Florida. He has not yet been sentenced on charges of mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion stemming from the influence-peddling scandal in Washington.
Abramoff’s organization was “viewed by many as a very respected lobbying team,” Schlapp told investigators, according to Waxman’s letter.
Waxman challenged the White House to provide material in the next week, saying it cannot be withheld unless President Bush invokes executive privilege.
The documents the White House has sent to the committee generally involve communications between White House officials and Abramoff or members of his lobbying group. The White House blacked out portions of the pages given to the committee.
Waxman’s request concerns “internal documents and internal deliberations that we are probably not going to turn over,” said White House press secretary Dana Perino. “I will not say that we’re … asserting executive privilege.” She said that internal deliberations are protected under the law and “Representative Waxman knows that.”
Waxman, D-Calif., chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The Justice Department probe of Abramoff and his team of lobbyists has led to convictions of a dozen people, including former U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, former White House official David Safavian and former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles.