Last week, reporters asked White House Spokesman Scott McClellan a very simple question: Who in the Bush admininstration has met with corrupt Republican kingmaker Jack Abramoff, how many times, and on what business?
Scott McClellan committed at that time to check into it and to get back to reporters with information. So this Tuesday, reporters asked McClellan to report on the Bush admininstration – Abramoff ties. The following exchange resulted.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, my understanding from the check that we did was that there are just a few staff-level meetings in addition to those.
Q Who was in the staff meetings?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t get into discussing staff-level meetings.
Q Why not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you got something to bring to my attention, Elisabeth, I’ll be glad to look into it. If you’ve got something specific, I’ll be glad to take a look into it.
Q Did he meet with Karl Rove, for example?
MR. McCLELLAN: We don’t — we don’t ever tend to get into those staff-level meetings.
Q Scott, what was the subject matter when Jack Abramoff met with staff here?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?
Q What was the subject —
MR. McCLELLAN: I just indicated earlier to Elisabeth’s questions that we just don’t get into discussing White House staff-level meetings. We never really have.
Q Can you say who Mr. Abramoff was representing when he came in here?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. Again, we don’t get into discussing staff-level meetings. If you have something specific to bring to my attention, I’ll be glad to try to look into that. But I’m not aware of anything specific that you have.
Q What got him in the door here? How did he qualify for meetings here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I checked on this. What I was asked is to go and check on this, and I did. And there were only a couple of holiday receptions that he attended, and then a few staff-level meetings on top of that. And that’s the way I would describe it.
Now, what I can’t do is go and say with absolute certainty that he did not have any other visits. We did a check at your request and what I have learned from that request is exactly what I am telling you.
Q Was it senior staff, at that level?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?
Q Would you qualify it as senior staff that he met with here?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m just saying staff-level meetings is the way I would describe it. And if you have anything specific, I’ll be glad to take a look into it.
Q Well, we’re counting on you for the specifics —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if there’s any reason for me to check into it, please bring it to my attention.
Q He’s pled guilty to some serious charges.
MR. McCLELLAN: And so are you insinuating something?
Q We’re just trying to find out the facts.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you’ve got something to bring to my attention, do so, and then I’ll be glad to look into it.
Q Scott, that’s not a fair burden to place on us. This is a guy who is a tainted lobbyist, and he has connections — we want to know — with whom in the White House. You shouldn’t demand that we give you something specific to go check it out. I mean, this guy is radioactive in Washington. And he knows guys like Karl Rove. So did he meet with him or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: I know of nothing that —
Q Don’t put it on us to bring something specific. It’s a specific question about a specific individual.
Q Can you tell us if he met with Karl Rove?
MR. McCLELLAN: Because we don’t discuss staff-level meetings —
Q Of course you do, whenever you want to discuss staff-level meetings. And if Karl Rove, who has ties to Ralph Reed, which he does, we want to know if he has ties to Jack Abramoff, and if they met —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I can answer that.
Q Oh, great. Well, before you said —
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I mean, about if he knows — yes, he knows — he knows Mr. Abramoff. They are both former heads of the College Republicans. That’s how they got to know each other way back, I think it was in the early ’80s. And my understanding is that Karl would describe it as more of a casual relationship, than a business relationship. That’s what he has said.
On Wednesday, reporters tried asking White House spokesman Scott McClellan the same question. Again, no answers:
Q Scott, just quickly back to Abramoff. Can you give any more specificity on those meetings, when they were, years, times?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is sticking with our past policy. We’re not going to engage in a fishing expedition.
Q Not even years? I mean, you’re talking about —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Hanukkah receptions were back in 2001 and 2002.
Q Okay, you talked about the Hanukkah receptions. Can you talk about the staff-level meetings and what years those were, or —
MR. McCLELLAN: No —
Q And why would you tell us the Hanukkah —
MR. McCLELLAN: I did a check for you all, to provide you that information. But we’re not going to engage in a fishing expedition. I know that there are some that want to do that. But I don’t see any reason to do so.
Q Can you explain why you wouldn’t want it out there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this has been in keeping with past practice, in terms of what — in similar incidents. In terms of why we wouldn’t want what out there?
And reporters asked McClellan again on Thursday:
Q And going back to the Abramoff investigation, do you have an update for us on any records of phone calls or emails between staff members and Mr. Abramoff, or photos of the President with him?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, as I indicated yesterday, we’re not going to engage in some sort of fishing expedition.
Q Scott, you said a few minutes ago you weren’t going to do a fishing expedition on any contacts Abramoff might have had with White House people. But some of his lobbying firm billing records and emails and other things that are emerging in this case suggest some specific meetings with White House officials, including an aid to the Vice President. Have you had any opportunity, or will you take the opportunity to sort of compare those records with anything —
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I mean, the gentleman you bring up, Mr. Abramoff, is someone that is being held to account by the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice has an ongoing investigation and they’re the ones who are overseeing that investigation.
All those words tell us the following: Jack Abramoff did indeed meet, multiple times, with Bush administration officials. Furthermore, we know Jack Abramoff and Karl Rove know one another back from when Jack Abramoff was a head of the College Republicans. There’s also a hint of contact with the office of the Vice President.
But, very interestingly, Scott McClellan repeatedly refused to disclose the number of times that Jack Abramoff met with Bush administration officials, the dates that Jack Abramoff met with Bush admininstration officials, or the names of the Bush admininstration officials with whom Jack Abramoff met. McClellan has this information, but he’s not talking.
What is the Bush admininstration hiding this time?