By: E&P Staff
Reporters continued to hammer away at President Bush’s chief spokesperson today on the domestic spying issue, particularly a report in today’s New York Times that suggested the NSA’s secret eavesdropping program netted “a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names” after the Sept. 11 attacks, nearly all of which “led to dead ends or innocent Americans.”
But another theme emerged today.
As the fallout from indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff continues, reporters are now trying to home in on Abramoff’s White House connections, specifically looking for details on his meetings with President Bush’s staff. But so far presidential spokesman Scott McClellan isn’t budging.
On Tuesday, McClellan admitted Abramoff had “a few staff-level meetings” at the Bush White House, but he declined to say with whom Abramoff met, which interests he was representing, or how he got access to the White House.
Here is the Abramoff-related portion of Tuesday’s press gaggle with McClellan:
Q Another topic, if you would. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and others sent a letter to the President today regarding Abramoff, asking for the President make public any contacts that he had with Abramoff, as well as senior administration officials; and any kind of benefits or access that they may have gained from this connection. They said, “The American people need to be assured that the White House is not for sale.” Is there any plan for the President or the administration to make that information available?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this President expects everybody in his administration to adhere to the highest ethical standards. I’ve already talked to you all about this matter. If you have anything specific to bring to my attention, please do. But, remember, this is a guy who has admitted wrongdoing. He’s being brought to justice by the Justice Department under this administration. And he’s also someone where he and/or his clients contributed to both Democrats and Republicans. So I think that needs to be put in context, as well.
Q So would the White House be open to complying with the Democrats’ request to go ahead and provide that kind of information, the contacts Abramoff had with senior staff, that type of thing?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I’ve already indicated to you a general description of any contacts that were there.
Q Can you be more specific about the contacts with the senior staff? You said you were going to get back to us on that. Can you give us —
MR. McCLELLAN: I did check. There were a few staff-level meetings. As I indicated there were — I think I previously indicated that he attended three Hanukkah receptions at the White House. It is actually only two Hanukkah receptions that he attended.
Q And the years?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it was the earlier years, earlier 2000 — early in the 2000 time period. I can double-check that. And so that’s —
Q Specific staff? You were going to get back to us on the specific staff —
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.
But if you’ve got specific matters that I need to look into, it’s my point that I think it’s your obligation to bring that to my attention and I’ll be glad to take a look into it.
Q Well, I don’t —
MR. McCLELLAN: There’s been no —
Q — no, no, but I don’t think it’s our obligation to do anything. If we want to know whether there was pending business that Abramoff represented to members of the staff here at the White House, what do we need —
MR. McCLELLAN: There’s been no suggestion of anything like that out of this White House.
Q — some kind of an affidavit to bring you to —
MR. McCLELLAN: There’s been no suggestion of anything like this in this White House.
Q I’m just asking. I’m not suggesting.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, you’re insinuating. Go ahead.