Abramoff, the GOP loyalist who White House spokesman Scott McClellan claims Bush doesn't know, was a key player in Bush's transition team after the disputed 2000 Presidential election. Abramoff, working on Interior Department transition issues, attended a number of meetings with Bush during the transition.
"Bush tapped Abramoff as member of his Presidential Transition Team, advising the administration on policy and hiring at the Interior Department, which oversees Native American issues," writes Richard Wolfe and Holly Baily in Newsweek. "That level of close access to Bush, DeLay and other GOP leaders has been cited by many of the Indian tribes who hired Abramoff with hopes of gaining greater influence with the administration and Congress on gaming issues."
Although McClellan claims Bush did not meet with Abramoff, another White House spokesman, Erin Healy, said last year that "they may have met on occasion. After the Abramoff scandal broke, Healy amended her statement to add that the President "did not consider him a close friend" and claimed the White House had limited contact with the lobbyist. McClellan Tuesday claimed he could find only two contacts between the White House and Abramoff.
Two key players on Abramoff's lobbying team wound up with Bush administration jobs: Patrick Pizzella, named an assistant secretary of labor by Bush; and David Safavian, chosen by Bush to oversee federal procurement policy in the Office of Management and Budget.
In fact, Abramoff's close ties with Bush go back to 1997 when the then Governor of Texas wrote a letter on the lobbyist's behalf supporting his Marianas island client's school choice proposal.
Although they now try to distance themselves from the disgraced lobbyists, key Bush allies once openly embraced Abramoff as one of their own.
"What the Republicans need is 50 Jack Abramoffs," Grover Norquist, another Bush confidant, told The National Journal in 1995.
"I know Jack Abramoff," admitted former National Republican Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, who adds that lobbyists like Abramoff "are Republicans; they were Republicans before they were lobbyists."
In April 2002, The National Journal reported: "Last summer, in an effort to raise the visibility of his Indian clients, Abramoff helped arrange a White House get-together on tax issues with President Bush for top Indian leaders, including Lovelin Poncho, the chairman of the Coushattas." Poncho first denied the meeting took place, but later changed his story in an interview with the Texas Observer. He now confirms Abramoff attended the meeting with Bush and says Bush greeted the lobbyist warmly "like an old friend."
Poncho says his tribe paid Abramoff $25,000 to arrange the May 2002 meeting with Bush.
Abramoff came up through GOP ranks with Norquist and conservative Christian leader Ralph Reed. All enjoyed unfettered access to Bush and worked closely with Bush's Machiavellian political advisor Karl Rove.
In 2001, Abramoff recommended one of his key assistants, Susan Ralston, to Rove, who was looking for a new key advisor. She is still with Rove.
In 2003, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a Seattle radio host and activist, urged friends and colleagues to send campaign contributions to Bush via Abramoff, often praising the lobbyist on his show as "a good and personal friend of the President."
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