Abramoff team had 485 contacts with White House, report says

Friday, September 29th 2006, 6:24 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's billing records and e-mails listed 485 lobbying contacts with White House officials over three years, including 10 with top Bush administration aide Karl Rove, according to a congressional report.

The large number of contacts were only from Abramoff's records, and did not mean they brought favorable responses. In fact, Abramoff's team on numerous occasions did not get what it wanted and results overall were mixed, according to the draft report by the House Government Reform Committee obtained Thursday.

Abramoff and associates were successful in getting appropriations for some of his Indian clients, but efforts to influence presidential appointments and nominations ``were often not successful,'' the report said. The records indicate Abramoff and his associates lobbied on behalf of more than 20 people for administration jobs, but only one was approved, the report said.

There were several instances in which the documents _ supplied by Abramoff's former lobbying firm _ indicated Rove ate at an Abramoff restaurant, Signatures. There was one occasion in which Abramoff got Rove NCAA basketball tournament tickets, but Rove may have paid for them.

I just saw Karl ... and mentioned the NCAA, opportunity, which he was really jazzed about it,'' Abramoff wrote Rove aide Susan Ralston.

``Karl has to pay for his tickets,'' Ralston e-mailed the lobbyist.

Abramoff responded the cost would be $50 for each ticket, ``payable to me personally.''

Several days later, Abramoff said in an e-mail that he had been ``sitting yesterday with Karl Rove ... at the NCAA basketball game discussing Israel'' when an e-mail about a suicide bomber came in. There was no further mention of the bombing.

Learning that Rove would appear at Abramoff's restaurant, the lobbyist wrote, ``I want him to be given a very nice bottle of wine and have Joseph whisper in his ear (only he should hear) that Abramoff wanted him to have this wine on the house.''

The report said that of the 485 contacts listed, 345 were described as meetings or other in-person contacts; 71 were described as phone conversations and 69 were e-mail exchanges.

The White House responded by sharply criticizing Abramoff.

``It is shocking and deeply disturbing that this admitted and proven liar ripped off his clients by over-billing and over-selling his supposed influence with any number of policymakers,'' Dana Perino, deputy White House press secretary, said Thursday.

``The billing records that are the basis for this report are widely regarded as fraudulent in how they misrepresent Abramoff's activities and level of access. There is no reason why they should suddenly be viewed as credible.''

Referring to the wine at Abramoff's restaurant, Perino said the idea that Abramoff ingratiated himself to Rove by sending him a bottle of wine was laughable. Anyone ``who knows Rove knows that he doesn't drink alcohol,'' she said.

The records cover the period from January 2001 through March 2004, and included the work of 20 lobbyists. Abramoff in January pleaded guilty to four counts of conspiracy, one count of mail fraud and one count of tax evasion. In his plea agreement, he admitted he defrauded his clients, and some of the contacts in the records could not be verified by the committee, the report said.

According to e-mails, Abramoff and his team offered White House officials tickets to 19 sporting events and concerts. Abramoff maintained season tickets and suites at several venues, including Washington's football stadium and basketball arena and the Baltimore Orioles home field.

The report said the most frequent recipient of tickets from Abramoff was Ralston, who worked for the lobbyist before she went to work for Rove.

But the report also said Abramoff used conservative activist Ralph Reed to communicate with the White House.

From time to time, the report added, Abramoff had the opportunity to introduce a client to important officials such as Rove, by providing an invitation to a dinner arranged by another conservative activist, Grover Norquist.

The Associated Press reported last week that Republican activists Norquist and Reed landed more than 100 meetings inside the Bush White House.

The White House released the Secret Service visit records to settle a lawsuit by the Democratic Party and an ethics watchdog group seeking visitors logs for the two GOP strategists.

The congressional report also said Abramoff's team claimed to have lobbied the White House's Office of Political Affairs in 17 instances, including six with Ken Mehlman _ who formerly headed the office and now heads the Republican National Committee.

The records indicated that Abramoff's team billed clients for 186 breakfasts, lunches, dinners or drinks with White House officials during the three years. These contacts comprised 40 percent of the lobbying contacts, the report said.

Some of the meal and drink contacts could not be corroborated, said the report said.

ABC News first reported the committee's findings Thursday evening.

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