WASHINGTON - Then-lobbyist Jack Abramoff influenced some White House decisions by lavishing exclusive sports tickets and meals on political-staff members, but there is no evidence that President Bush was involved, a congressional panel said in a draft report yesterday.
The findings of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee show that the White House had more contacts with Abramoff than it previously acknowledged. But congressional investigators said they found no evidence that Abramoff lobbied Bush on the six occasions the two met, or that the president took action in response to any request from the disgraced lobbyist, now in prison.
In January 2006, after Abramoff pleaded guilty, then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan said he had "checked" into contacts at the Executive Mansion and found "only a couple of holiday receptions that he attended and then a few staff-level meetings." The committee found that neither McClellan nor his successor, Tony Snow, had checked with five staff members who were key points of contacts for Abramoff's lobby team.
Primary among successes by Abramoff's team, the report found, was persuading Bush officials to seek the removal of Alan Stayman from the State Department position overseeing the relationship with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a major client of Abramoff's and his firm.
Abramoff's activities are the subject of a federal investigation that has yielded more than a dozen convictions of congressional aides, lobbyists and public officials. Abramoff is cooperating with investigators while serving a sentence on a related fraud charge. He awaits sentencing in the lobbying scandal.
"High-level White House officials held Mr. Abramoff and his associates in high regard and solicited recommendations from Mr. Abramoff on policy matters," the draft report said.
The document was the second bipartisan review of contacts between Abramoff and the White House issued by the committee, now chaired by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D., Calif.). The first report, written when Rep. Thomas M. Davis 3d (R., Va.) was chairman, found that tickets were given to staffers and that the lobbyists billed clients for more than 400 contacts with White House officials from 2001 to 2004. New details and previously secret White House e-mail messages were released yesterday.
In the Stayman matter, an e-mail exchange showed the potential sensitivity in the White House. Public affairs director Matt Schlapp wrote, "How do we fix this?" Monica Kladakis, a personnel deputy, replied, "I think we can do something about it, but ... I don't want a firing scandal on our hands."
Among those getting tickets was senior adviser Karl Rove, who paid Abramoff $150 for three tickets to the NCAA basketball tournament on March 17, 2002.
On three occasions, White House employees turned down free tickets. Schlapp declined a ticket offer from Abramoff associate Tony Rudy, telling him by e-mail it was because of "ethics rules on this end of the street, and I'm way too broke" to pay for them. Rudy later pleaded guilty in the Abramoff scandal.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the report "confirms what has become clear in all of this - Abramoff was spectacularly unsuccessful in influencing administration policy."