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White House not sharing Bush-Abramoff photos
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Several White House officials have been briefed about pictures of President Bush and Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff taken since 2001 but will not release them, on grounds that they are not relevant to the ongoing money-for-favors investigation, aides said Monday.
"Trying to say there's more to it than the president taking a picture in a photo line is just absurd," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. Bush, he said, does not recall meeting Abramoff and did not do any favors for the disgraced lobbyist.
Abramoff, who recently pleaded guilty in the growing bribery and corruption scandal, was with Bush about a dozen times when pictures were taken by the official White House photographer or other participants over the past five years, according to a source familiar with Abramoff's legal situation. Abramoff, this source said, displayed at least five of them on his office desk and has told people the president talked about his children's names as well as personal details about their schooling during one encounter.
The source said Abramoff has more than half a dozen photos with Bush, including one of the two men shaking hands, but has no intention of releasing them. The existence of the Bush-Abramoff photos was first reported by Washingtonian magazine, which reviewed five photos but was not permitted to publish them.
No evidence has emerged thus far suggesting that Bush had a close relationship with Abramoff or that he or any top White House aides did anything to improperly assist his clients, according to people familiar with the investigation. Several lower-level administration officials, however, have been caught up in the scandal, including the top procurement official. The federal probe is expected to zero in on Abramoff's dealings with the Interior Department as it unfolds in coming months.
But public photographs could damage Bush's efforts to insulate himself from a scandal that has scorched numerous other Republicans. An image of Bush shaking hands and smiling with Abramoff would provide fuel for news coverage and commentary, even if such "grip-and-grin" shots are commonplace for most politicians.
Jennifer Palmieri, a former Clinton communications aide, said, "If TV is showing a picture of George Bush and Jack Abramoff, it immediately brings the poster boy for abuse into the Oval Office."
Mark Corallo, a veteran GOP communications official, said that to minimize possible damage, the White House should release all of the photos immediately and explain how the photos are part of the normal meet-and-greet with supporters.
However, one top White House aide said it would set a terrible precedent if the president were to release photos from private events.
But Democrats said that precedent is established. In 1997, congressional and public pressure forced the Clinton White House to release videotapes of President Clinton hosting meet-and-greet coffees with big contributors.
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